Tennessee auto workers make history by voting yes to unionize

The recent UAW elections in Chattanooga made history after workers voted to unionize despite opposition from political establishment

April 23, 2024 by Peoples Dispatch
President of UAW with workers in Tennessee. Photo: UAW

Workers at the Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga made history on April 19 when, after tireless organizing in one of the states most hostile to unions in the country, workers voted yes to unionize. Chattanooga Volkswagen workers thus made Volkswagen the first nonunion automaker to become unionized in the US since 1941. The unionization drive won by a landslide, with 2,628 voting in favor and 985 voting against. The election in many ways was a litmus test for the UAW on the success of labor organizing in the US South, in which the political establishment is notoriously anti-union.

In the lead-up to the vote, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee weighed in to dissuade workers from voting to unionize, joining with five other governors of states in the US South, a region historically hostile to organized labor.

“We the Governors of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas are highly concerned about the unionization campaign driven by misinformation and scare tactics that the UAW has brought into our states,” read an April 16th statement. “As Governors, we have a responsibility to our constituents to speak up when we see special interests looking to come into our state and threaten our jobs and the values we live by.”

“We have serious reservations that the UAW leadership can represent our values. They proudly call themselves democratic socialists and seem more focused on helping President Biden get reelected than on the autoworker jobs being cut at plants they already represent.”

However, this conservative campaign was no match for the workers’ yearning for better conditions. Ahead of the vote, Labor on the Line spoke to several workers in Chattanooga about the election and why they were voting “Yes”.

James Robinson, a VW worker and UAW Organizing Committee member, told the outlet, “Every time a union vote comes, they [at the company] try to act nice, like they’re going to give you something or promise you something. ‘We’re gonna give you more time at home, more work-life balance.’ But like right after the vote in 2019,…just overtime, overtime, overtime. So it’s like they try to dangle this in front of you so you can vote no, basically. And then they take back what they said because you voted no. With a contract with the union, we have everything locked in place, in writing, so they can’t just take it back as they choose.”

The victory of Chattanooga workers has galvanized working people across the nation. This includes workers at UAW Local 2710, the Student Workers of Columbia, whose members are currently participating in the Gaza Solidarity Encampment. Grant Miner, Vice President of Local 2710, released a message of solidarity with Chattanooga workers straight from the encampment.