DemDaily: UAW Unlocks The South

April 24, 2024

Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee last Friday voted by an overwhelming 73% to unionize under the United Auto Workers (UAW). The election delivers another high-profile victory for organized labor, and a historic one for the UAW -- as the first union to organize a foreign-owned auto plant in the South.

There has not been an organizing victory of this size in the South in decades.

President Joe Biden, who became the first sitting president in US history to join a union picket line when he stood with UAW members in Detroit last year, congratulated the auto plant workers on voting for union representation.

"Across the country, union members have logged major wins and large raises... including auto workers, actors, port workers, Teamsters, writers, warehouse and health care workers, and more. Together, these union wins have helped raise wages and demonstrate once again that the middle class built America and that unions are still building and expanding the middle class for all workers." - President Joe Biden

The Volkswagen victory comes on the heels of UAW's historic "Stand Up Strike" against the country's "Big Three" Detroit automakers last September, which shut down production plants at General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.

The simultaneous, strategically targeted strikes across Ohio, Missouri and Michigan, led by UAW's dynamic new president, Shawn Fain, resulted in unprecedented contracts, including a 25% base pay increase, cost of living adjustments and other benefits.

The UAW had twice failed to organize Volkswagen Chattanooga's 4,300 members -- in 2014 and again narrowly in 2019 -- hindered by a public federal investigation into bribery and embezzlement by two previous national presidents.

Elected in March 2023, Fain ran on an anti-corruption, change platform, successfully unseating the incumbent to become the first UAW president directly elected by its members.

He has emerged as a galvanizing voice amid a resurgence in a labor movement that has seen major gains across the country in recent years and enjoys a 67% public approval rating -- a nearly 60-year high.

Fain, who Biden called a "leader with a backbone, a backbone like a ramrod," is credited with reinvigorating the nearly 90-year-old UAW, one of the country's largest with over 900,000 union members -- many of whom are concentrated in crucial Midwest and Rust Belt swing states.

Less than two weeks after ratifying contracts with the Big Three automakers, the UAW announced a drive to organize nearly 150,000 workers at non-union factories largely in the South. Targets include plants run by Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Subaru, Mazda, Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW and Volvo, along with factories operated by electric-vehicle makers Tesla, Rivian and Lucid.

In April 16, just days before the Volkswagen Chattanooga vote, six Southern Republican governors, including Tennessee’s Bill Lee, issued a joint statement warning workers in their states that joining the UAW would put their jobs "in jeopardy" and threaten the region’s economic progress to the detriment of American workers.”

“We the Governors...are highly concerned about the unionization campaign driven by misinformation and scare tactics that the UAW has brought into our states. 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." - Governors Kay Ivey (AL), Brian Kemp (GA), Tate Reeves (MS), Henry McMaster (SC), Bill Lee (TN) and Greg Abbott (TX)

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: AP, Vox, UAW, The Guardian, New York Times, White House

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