UAW wins skilled trades vote at VW plant in Tennessee

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers has won a union vote among skilled-trades workers at Volkswagen’s lone U.S. assembly plant in Tennessee.

Norwood Jewell, vice president of the UAW, answers questions about Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, FCA, converting its diesel-powered Detroit transport truck fleet into natural gas powered during a press conference Friday, December 4, 2015 at the FCA transport facility in Detroit.

The workers who specialize in repairing and maintaining machinery and robots at the German automaker’s factory in Chattanooga voted 108-44, or 71 percent, to have the UAW negotiate collective bargaining deals on their behalf.

The vote comes nearly 20 months after the union was narrowly defeated in an election involving all hourly plant employees.

Ray Curry, director of UAW Region 8 covering the South, commended Volkswagen employees for exercising their rights in a representation election.

“Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga have had a long journey in the face of intense political opposition, and they have made steady progress,” he said in a statement. “We’re proud of their courage and persistence. We urge Volkswagen to respect the decision of its employees and recognize the local union as the representative of the skilled trades unit.”

Earlier, UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell had said he was “confident” that a group of Volkswagen AG skilled trades workers in Tennessee would vote in-favor of union representation.

“I’ve been confident about that from the beginning,” he said during a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV investment announcement on Friday in Detroit. “Once you get away from all the interference, you give people a chance to talk to people ... it’s a whole different thought process.”

The UAW suffered a large setback in February 2014, when workers voted 712-626 to reject creation of a German-style works council. The vote was conducted amid heavy anti-union campaigning from Republican lawmakers in the state.

Two days of voting for the 165 skilled trades workers who maintain and repair machinery and robots at the German automakers’ lone U.S. plant started Thursday.

The election took place despite a planned appeal by Volkswagen of a federal labor ruling allowing the smaller group of workers to seek to join a union rather than requiring a vote by all 1,400 hourly employees.

Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the international union’s Transnational Department, said urged Volkswagen to drop its plans to appeal the outcome of today’s election.

VW has more than 100 plants worldwide, and only the Chattanooga plant is non-union.

The small victory comes less than a month after the UAW wrapped up contentious contract negotiations with General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler. The 2015 negotiations between union and Detroit’ automakers revealed underlying frustrations with much of the union membership, but ultimately left workers with more money and job security through at least the next four years.

Fiat Chrysler workers rejected their first contract offer before approving a richer second offer. And although the overall majority of workers at General Motors favored the deal, skilled trades workers opposed it and caused a week-long delay before union leaders declared it ratified. Ford workers narrowly passed their four-year pact by 51.4 percent.

Jewell said the union is continuing to work on its communication process with the membership – a main concern from many members during the negotiations.

“You can never get enough communication, and a lot of our problem was the communication process,” he said. “And it’s not just at that time, it’s ongoing – whether it’s week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year … you’re going to see us continuing to work on that.”

Jewell declined to comment on if he was surprised that the votes at GM and Ford were so close following Fiat Chrysler workers overwhelmingly ratifying the second deal.

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The Associated Press contributed