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Tenn. VW Plant Closer To Unionizing With UAW Agreement


The United Auto Workers have struggled for years to get a foothold in foreign-owned auto plants in the South. Today the UAW scored a victory in Tennessee. Volkswagen officially recognized the union as a representative of at least some of its employees there. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN has more.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Volkswagen told its 1,500 hourly employees in Chattanooga that management will begin meeting with the UAW. The German automaker offered no further comment. The official recognition comes despite workers narrowly voting down union representation earlier this year amid stiff pushback from Tennessee Republicans.

FRANK FISCHER: A majority of our employees have voted against representation by the United Auto Workers.

GARY CASTEEL: If you reflect on where we were in February 10 months ago, did we ever think that we would be in the position that we are today? No.

FARMER: Gary Casteel leads the union's Southern strategy. The UAW has focused on the region because this is where so many foreign automakers have located in recent decades, in part to avoid unions. However, that's not VW's story. It has a heavy labor presence on its governing board and welcomed the organizing effort. Months after the UAW's defeat, the company established its own system for recognizing unions. And the UAW has now qualified with membership exceeding 45 percent of employees. It remains unclear, even to Casteel, if or when the union would negotiate pay or benefits with Volkswagen.

CASTEEL: But one thing's for certain. We're now discussing that with the company and not outside looking in.

FARMER: It's further than the UAW has gotten anywhere else in the region says labor expert Daniel Cornfield of Vanderbilt University.

DANIEL CORNFIELD: It's a step towards achieving unionized collective bargaining in a Southern automobile plant, but they're not there yet.

FARMER: UAW officials agree and say reaching collective bargaining will take more than a couple of weeks - maybe even a couple more years. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Blake Farmer
Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.
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