Volkswagen to announce results of vote on UAW union tonight

 February 14, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Volkswagen to announce results of vote on UAW union tonight

Chattanooga, Tenn. — Volkswagen AG says it plans to announce late Friday the results of the three-day vote by workers on whether to join the United Auto Workers union and form a German-style works council at its assembly plant here.

VW Chattanooga CEO Frank Fischer, UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel and retired Circuit Court Judge Samuel H. Payne will announce results sometime after 10 p.m. at the company’s VW Academy Apprentice Center. UAW President Bob King plans to talk to reporters in Chattanooga after the announcement.

The majority of the 1,570 eligible workers have already voted in the three-day election that started Wednesday morning and ends at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Most voted Wednesday, workers said. Production workers typically work a Monday-through-Thursday-week, though production was limited Wednesday night and Thursday because of heavy snowfall here.

After the final paper ballots are cast in a old-fashioned voting booth at the plant, the secret ballots will be mixed up and counted by hand and tabulated with hash marks overseen by a five-member team from the National Labor Relations Board. Monitors from a group of workers opposing the UAW that’s received significant outside contributions — called Southern Momentum — will watch the tally with the UAW.

Some union and VW officials predicted before the vote that the UAW would win the vote by a significant margin, but some think it might be closer after a heavy push by opponents in recent days, including radio, print and internet advertisements. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., asserted that VW would agree to build a new mid-size SUV in Tennessee if workers rejected the UAW, but VW denied that.

King said in a Detroit News interview Thursday that the union would move onto its next organizing campaign.

Some experts think the UAW would focus on the Daimler AG Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala., about 180 miles south of Chattanooga. Others think the union would aim to organize workers at VW’s nearby auto suppliers.

Or the UAW could focus on its campaign to win support for a union at Nissan Motor Co.’s assembly plant in Canton, Miss. King declined to talk about the next move in his Detroit News interview on Thursday, saying he wanted to focus on the VW vote.

“If they are successful at Volkswagen, that model of adopting and adapting the German works council would lead me to think they would go to German suppliers and producers,” said Kristin Dziczek, a labor expert at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. She thinks the UAW will continue on a multi-front approach and then focus its efforts when it gets traction somewhere.

Last month, King said the UAW would seek a 25 percent hike in dues in June at the union’s constitutional convention. He also wants to use a dues increase to restore the union’s strike fund which was $1 billion but today stands at just over $600 million. “I think our members will overwhelming support this.”

Furthermore, he said, organizing workers at foreign auto plants in the United States isn’t cheap. “Those campaigns take a lot of money,” he said.

The UAW and members will launch a membership drive if they win, since Tennessee is a right-to-work state. Then it will begin work on reaching a bargaining agreement, which will lay out the terms of the works council.

Tennessee is among the 15 states with the lowest number of union members, but the number of union members rose by 25 percent to 155,000 in 2013. That makes it the fastest-growing state in union membership last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Chattanooga historically had a significant union membership, especially in the steel industry. There are still about two dozen active unions in the area, said Mike Feely, an adjunct history professor at Tennessee Temple University.

“If a works council is approved I think it will work, but I don’t think will radically change the way Chattanooga operates.”

Opponents are likely to file an appeal and UAW or its supporters would also likely appeal if the vote is defeated. Maury Nicely, a Chattanooga attorney representing Southern Momentum which has been fighting the UAW, said it was too early to say if the group would appeal if the UAW won. Asked if he thought the process had been fair, he didn’t directly answer.

Cliff Hammond, a Detroit attorney who has been on both sides of the union table, said the vote will have a definite impact on Michigan.

“For years, the UAW has poured considerable resources into making inroads at foreign automakers in southern right-to-work states. The problem is, it hasn’t scored a signature victory,” said Hammond. “Winning the election will buoy the union’s confidence, help swell its ranks, and possibly give the union some traction and momentum in the south and among foreign automakers, but the impact of winning the election in Tennessee could be just as significant in Michigan.”

The UAW’s membership rose less than 1 percent in 2012 to 382,513, up about 1,500 members over 2011. In its annual report filed with the U.S. Labor Department, the union said it has boosted membership by about 10 percent since 2009. But it is still down more than a third since 2005. The UAW had 1.53 million members in 1979. King said the UAW would show a slight increase in 2013 membership when figures are released.

 

dshepardson@detroitnews.com

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