Red State Road Map: Volkswagen Workers’ Vote to Unionize in Tennessee Opens Doors for UAW in the South

CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE - APRIL 19: People celebrate after the United Auto Workers (UAW) re
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

A vote to unionize among auto workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant will open new doors for the United Auto Workers (UAW) to seek similar victories at non-union plants across the Deep South — an awakening for many Republican lawmakers who remain hostile to the union.

Late last week, 73 percent of the workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant voted to join the UAW in a historic move certain to bring a slew of unionization votes across plants in the South. Just 27 percent of workers voted against joining the UAW.

The results will now have to be certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

People celebrate at a UAW vote watch party after the United Auto Workers (UAW) received enough votes to form a union on April 19, 2024, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

A VW employee looks at UAW unionization vote results on her phone at a United Auto Workers vote watch party on April 19, 2024, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

People celebrate at a United Auto Workers vote watch party on April 19, 2024, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

The vote is significant mainly for the implications it could have for auto workers in plants in Alabama and other southern states. Next month, for example, auto workers at two Mercedes-Benz plants in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, are hoping to replicate the Volkswagen results.

The UAW’s branching out to the Deep South, promising to score higher wages and better benefits for workers at nonunion auto plants, comes as leadership approved $40 million in February to kickstart such campaigns.

The goal is ultimately a numbers game: getting workers at traditionally nonunion plants in red states to join the ranks of the UAW, thus growing its influence after decades of dwindling relevance and minimized bargaining power in Washington, DC.

The UAW is trying to win over workers at nonunion plants by highlighting their strong showing last year following a strike on the Big Three which saw General Motors (GM), Ford, and Stellantis agree to higher wages, cost-of-living allowances, and a right to strike for workers whenever the automakers seek to close plants in the United States.

Unionization among auto workers in the South could prove complicated for statewide Republicans and GOP lawmakers in Washington, DC, who have usually not had to deal with labor unions as a constituency.

In Tennessee, for instance, Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Bill Hagerty (R-TN) as well as Gov. Bill Lee (R) warned the Volkswagen workers against unionizing.

Lee went as far as joining a letter with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R), Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R), South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R), and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) that suggested auto worker unionization will halt job growth in their states.

“We want to keep good paying jobs and continue to grow the American auto manufacturing sector here,” the governors wrote. “A successful unionization drive will stop this growth in its tracks, to the detriment of American workers.”

On Monday, there was little indication that Republicans are interested in having the UAW in their states. In an interview with local media, Lee made his opinion clear on the Volkswagen vote.

“I think it’s unwise to put your future in somebody else’s hands,” Lee said at an event in Gallatin. “But those workers made that decision based on the individual circumstances of that plant. I think it was a mistake, but that’s their choice.”

John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Email him at Follow him on Twitter here.


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