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Governor Kay Ivey warns Alabama autoworkers against unionizing

FILE - United Auto Workers members walk the picket line during a strike at the Stellantis Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, in Sterling Heights, Mich., Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. According to an annual report published Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, from the Labor Action Tracker, a collaboration between researchers at Cornell University and the University of Illinois, those involved in work stoppages climbed 141% in 2023 — from 224,000 to 539,000 striking workers. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
Paul Sancya/AP
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AP
FILE - United Auto Workers members walk the picket line during a strike at the Stellantis Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, in Sterling Heights, Mich., Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. According to an annual report published Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, from the Labor Action Tracker, a collaboration between researchers at Cornell University and the University of Illinois, those involved in work stoppages climbed 141% in 2023 — from 224,000 to 539,000 striking workers. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

On the eve of a vote on union representation at Volkswagen's Tennessee factory, Governor Bill Lee and five other southern governors are telling workers that voting for a union will put jobs in jeopardy. Republican Kay Ivey of Alabama signed onto that statement.

About 4,300 workers at VW's plant in Chattanooga will start voting Wednesday on representation by the United Auto Workers union. Vote totals are expected to be tabulated Friday night by the National Labor Relations Board. Lee said in a statement that Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and Texas Governor Greg Abbott have signed on to the statement. The offices of Abbott, Ivey, Kemp and Reeves confirmed their involvement, and McMaster posted the statement on his website.

The union election is the first test of the UAW's efforts to organize nonunion auto factories nationwide following its success winning big raises last fall after going on strike against Detroit automakers Ford, General Motors and Jeep maker Stellantis.

The governors said in a statement that they have worked to bring good-paying jobs to their states.

"We are seeing in the fallout of the Detroit Three strike with those automakers rethinking investments and cutting jobs," the statement said. "Putting businesses in our states in that position is the last thing we want to do."

The governors said they want to continue to grow manufacturing in their states, but a successful union drive will "stop this growth in its tracks, to the detriment of American workers."

The UAW declined comment.

After a series of strikes against Detroit automakers last year, UAW President Shawn Fain said it would simultaneously target more than a dozen nonunion auto plants including those run by Tesla, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, Honda, and others.

The drive covers nearly 150,000 workers at factories largely in the South, where the union thus far has had little success in recruiting new members.

Earlier this month a majority of workers at a Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, filed papers with the NLRB to vote on UAW representation.

The UAW pacts with Detroit automakers include 25% pay raises by the time the contracts end in April of 2028. With cost-of-living increases, workers will see about 33% in raises for a top assembly wage of $42 per hour, or more than $87,000 per year, plus thousands in annual profit sharing.

VW said Tuesday that its workers can make over $60,000 per year not including an 8% attendance bonus. The company says it pays above the median household income in the area.

Volkswagen has said it respects the workers' right to a democratic process and to determine who should represent their interests. "We will fully support an NLRB vote so every team member has a chance to vote in privacy in this important decision," the company said.

Some workers at the VW plant, who make Atlas SUVs and ID.4 electric vehicles, said they want more of a say in schedules, benefits, pay and more.

The union has come close to representing workers at the VW plant in two previous elections. In 2014 and 2019, workers narrowly rejected a factorywide union under the UAW.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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