Helena Lyng Blak
4 weeks ago

Southern Workers Defy Governors, Say They are “Ready to Stand Up and Win a Better Life”

Volkswagen workers achieve a “historic breakthrough” in efforts to unionize the US South.
Gabriel Nica / Shutterstock.com
Gabriel Nica / Shutterstock.com

On Friday, April 19, 2024, the workers of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant voted to unionize, joining United Auto Workers (UAW). 

The move, which UAW calls a “historic breakthrough”, signifies the first time in Southern US history that autoworkers in a foreign manufacturing plant have unionized. 

“This is a movement for every blue-collar worker in America,” said Volkwagen worker Doug Snyder in a statement

Less optimistic, however, was Tennessee Governor Bill Lee who, joining the Governors of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas, staunchly opposed “UAW’s unionization campaign”. 

“The experience in our states is when employees have a direct relationship with their employers, that makes for a more positive working environment. They can advocate for themselves and what is important to them without outside influence,” said the Governors in a statement, further claiming that unionization would “certainly” put the states’ jobs in jeopardy.

Amidst regional pushback, the issue caught the attention of the highest levels of government. President Joe Biden, who backed UAW, responded to the governors in a statement on Friday, saying, “Let me be clear to the Republican governors that tried to undermine this vote: there is nothing to fear from American workers using their voice and their legal right to form a union if they so choose.”

According to AP News, 83.5% out of the plant’s 4,300 production workers voted, with 73% of those voting in favor of joining UAW. 

“This election is big,” said Kelcey Smith, another worker at Volkswagen. “People in high places told us good things can’t happen here in Chattanooga. They told us this isn’t the time to stand up, this isn’t the place. But we did stand up and we won. This is the time; this is the place. Southern workers are ready to stand up and win a better life.”  

UAW’s campaign to get auto workers across the country, and especially in the South, to join continues. Next up is Mercedes in Alabama, which will vote on membership in May. 

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