A majority of autoworkers at the Volkswagen (VW) plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., have signed union cards, the United Auto Workers (UAW) announced Tuesday.
The milestone marks a major victory for the union’s efforts to expand to the South.
The announcement comes less than two months after UAW began a member drive at the factory, riding momentum from a six-week strike at the Big Three automakers last fall that won members increased pay and benefits.
The Chattanooga factory is Volkswagen’s only U.S. plant, and one of multiple union targets in the South. Following a contract victory at the mostly Midwest-based Big Three automakers — Ford, General Motors and Stellantis — the UAW announced in November it will focus on expansion in the mostly nonunion plants of the South and West Coast.
The union also launched a drive at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama last month. About 30 percent of that plant’s employees had signed union cards as of early January. The Chattanooga factory is the first nonunion plant to reach a majority since the expansion effort began, the union said.
“The excitement has been building, and now that we have reached 50%, it is just continuing to grow. New organizers are joining each day spreading our effort to every area of the plant,” VW worker Zach Costello said in a statement.
“Just because we are in the South, it does not mean that our work is worth less, that our benefits should be diminished, or that we don’t have rights,” he continued. “All workers should have a voice, and I hope the success that we’re having here is showing workers across the country what is possible.”
The UAW said it will not demand an election until 70 percent of plant employees sign union cards, a conservative approach that makes it more likely an eventual union election succeeds.
The South is generally a weak region for organized labor, especially for the UAW. While some minor component manufacturers are unionized, no major auto plants in the area are.
The same Chattanooga VW plant held a union vote in 2014, but it failed. A Mississippi Nissan plant also held a unsuccessful vote in 2017.