The United Auto Workers hopes to be recognized as the exclusive bargaining agent for workers at a Volkswagen AG assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee within a year, the union’s President Dennis Williams said on Wednesday.
That would mark the first tangible victory for the UAW at a foreign-owned auto assembly plant in the U.S. South, where it has long faced stiff opposition in its attempts to organize workers.
Williams, elected to a four-year term in June, told Reuters he had not set a specific target date for the UAW to represent hourly workers at VW’s Chattanooga plant, in future talks about wages and benefits with the company.
He said “I hope so,” however, when asked if the UAW would gain recognition to bargain for VW workers by the time contract talks with the three biggest U.S. automakers, General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Chrysler Group, begin next summer.
Williams said the UAW already has a majority of the 1,500 hourly VW workers in Chattanooga as members of its local union there. But it still needs to prove that to VW, in line with U.S. labor law, to win formal recognition as the workers’ bargaining agent.
UAW Local 42 in Chattanooga earlier this month elected officers and it will be those officers who will liaise with VW plant officials about recognition, Williams said.
Williams comments come against the backdrop of the setback the UAW suffered eight months ago, when it lost an election among the Chattanooga VW workers by a 712-to-626 vote.
The union complained at the time that anti-union politicians and lobbyists made a fair election impossible.
The UAW has also established a union local in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where German-based Daimler has a Mercedes-Benz plant with about 2,500 full-time and 1,000 temporary workers.
The UAW’s efforts in Alabama are not as advanced as they are in Tennessee, however.
The union hopes that by showing success in Chattanooga, over time, workers at other non-union plants will be open to the union. Though it has made some small membership gains in recent years, at about 400,000 members the UAW is still well below its height of about 1.5 million in 1979.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Tom Brown)