The 1,500 workers begin casting ballots today with polls open through Friday at 8:30 p.m. Historically, final tallies are released within an hour or two after voting is completed, but it sometimes takes longer.
The United Auto Workers say a successful vote could be a turning point in labor relations.
“If the majority of workers vote for UAW representation, workers would then elect a bargaining committee from among VWGOA workers in Chattanooga to negotiate an agreement with the company, including how a works council would operate in the Chattanooga facility based on the principles of co-determination,” the union says on its website.
“This would be the first works council established in the United States. Ultimately, such a labor relations model would give workers an integral role in co-managing the company and providing input on workplace improvements that would contribute to the success of the company and the workers.”
As strongly as the pro-union voices are, they are facing just as strong a wind in opposition.
Today’s issue of the Cleveland Daily Banner contains two full-page ads from Southern Momentum, which calls itself “a nonprofit worker center formed by VW team members committed to the future growth and success of Volkswagen.”
The group contends the vote is not one for or against the idea of a works council, but simply the choice of being unionized.
A works council is a board composed of both employer and employees convened to discuss matters of common interest concerning a factory, plant, business policy, etc., not covered by regular trade union agreements.
U.S. labor laws do not allow the formation of works councils without a labor union.
Political divides have also come into the mix of the issue.
A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam said the governor thinks the state will have a more difficult time recruiting new manufacturers should the vote be successful.
Others have weighed in on the issue as well.
“They will become the object of many business school studies, and I’m a little worried could become a laughingstock in many ways, if they inflict this wound,” U.S. Sen. and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker told The Associated Press in September. GOP leaders in the Tennessee General Assembly are warning acceptance of unionizing could hinder any further business incentives.
“It has been widely reported that Volkswagen has promoted a campaign that has been unfair, unbalanced and, quite frankly, un-American in the traditions of American labor campaigns,” State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, said in a statement sent to the Detroit Free Press. “Should the workers choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers, then I believe additional incentives for expansion will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate.”
Democrats have been defending Volkswagen’s right to manage the plant the way it chooses.
“In my 20 years on the Hill, I’ve never seen such a massive intrusion into the affairs of a private company,” said Tennessee Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.
Democratic lawmakers called a press conference Monday to say they were “stunned” that Republicans in government would attempt to interfere with agreements made involving private businesses. They said they feared the move would dissuade future businesses from coming to Tennessee.
“I would be reluctant to come here if the government, and the Republican Party, is going to second-guess my business,” said Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Turner, in a news release, said Republicans “are basically threatening to kill jobs if workers exercise their federally protected rights to organize.”
Volkswagen is now considering whether to invest in the Chattanooga plant for production of new midsize SUVs to go on sale in 2016.
The company also has a plant in Puebla, Mexico, that could be on the table for expansion.
“If the majority of workers vote for UAW representation, workers would then elect a bargaining committee from among VWGOA workers in Chattanooga to negotiate an agreement with the company, including how a works council would operate in the Chattanooga facility based on the principles of co-determination.” — UAW website