Vote to organize Volkswagen plant in Tennessee begins; UAW seeks big win in the South

Previous attempts to organize the VW plant failed in 2014 and 2019. Labor Notes reporter Luis Felix Leon says this time is different.

Photo of a Volkswagen emblem on the front grille of the car.

Workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. are deciding whether to join the United Auto Workers union. The start of voting comes amid a push by the UAW to organize workers in the South.

While the union has represented workers of American-owned automakers for decades, organizing efforts for foreign car companies have fallen short.

Foreign automakers like Toyota, Mercedes, Honda and Volkswagen put their plants in Southern states due to anti-union sentiment that exists from some workers and many politicians.

In 2014 and 2019, organizing drives by the union were voted down at the VW plant, but with support for unions at an all-time high, the UAW hopes this time is different.

Back in 2019, Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) was staunchly against the vote and advocated against it.
Labor Notes reporter Luis Feliz Leon says Fleischmann is letting the workers decide.

“(Fleischmann) said that he was going to stay out of it — which was an about face that was a little surprising considering how in the past state politicians in Tennessee have done the union busting for the companies.”

Leon says he expects that when votes are counted on Friday, workers will have agreed to join the UAW.

“The election at Volkswagen is going to be a knockout punch that is going to carry forward to Mercedes from Mercedes to Missouri at Toyota and it’s going to continue spreading,” Leon said.

A supermajority of workers at a Mercedes plant in Alabama also agreed to hold a vote that will take place in the coming weeks. Political opposition remains strong in that state. With Kay Ivey – that state’s Governor – referring to organizing efforts as “that threat from Detroit.”

Trusted, accurate, up-to-date.

WDET strives to make our journalism accessible to everyone. As a public media institution, we maintain our journalistic integrity through independent support from readers like you. If you value WDET as your source of news, music and conversation, please make a gift today.

Donate today »


  • Russ McNamara
    Russ McNamara is the host of All Things Considered for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news to the station’s loyal listeners. He's been an avid listener of WDET since he moved to metro Detroit in 2002.