Over 1,000 workers have signed union authorization cards in less than a week and gone public with their union drive at Volkswagen’s only U.S. plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. The move is a surprise breakthrough in the UAW’s national campaign to organize all non-union autoworkers at 13 companies. Over 30% of VW workers in Chattanooga have joined the movement, marking a major milestone in their organizing campaign. (Their campaign webpage is at uaw.org/vw.)
“People are standing up like never before,” said Steve Cochran, a skilled team member and a leader of the workers building the union at Volkswagen. “There are a lot of young workers in the plant now and this generation wants respect. They’re not okay with mistreatment by management. They see what’s happening at Starbucks and Amazon. They know that standing up to join the union is how you win fair treatment, fair pay and a better life.”
Volkswagen Group has made $184 billion in profits over the last decade. VW vehicle prices are up 37 percent in the past three years while workers’ wages lag far behind those of the Big Three. Workers at the Chattanooga plant build the VW Atlas, Atlas Sport, and the electric ID.4.
“When I’m looking at a weld, I think about my grandkids in the backseat of that car,” said Vicky Holloway, a production team member in body shop quality. “I want to know we’re doing the job right. But the company isn’t putting people into jobs because they have the experience or the qualifications. They’re just handpicking whoever they want. We need the union so people with the right experience are put into the right positions. Safety has to come first.”
“I like working at VW, I’m proud to make these vehicles, but I’m not proud of the way we’re treated,” said Billy Quigg, a production team member in assembly. “The forced overtime on Saturdays, the lack of time off, it keeps us away from our families. That’s why we’re building the union. When people have a good job and time to spend with our families, we’ll help the whole community thrive.”
The growing movement among non-union autoworkers across the country builds off the success of the UAW’s Stand Up Strike at the Big Three, where around 50,000 workers struck for over 40 days to win record contracts at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. Non-union automakers have hurried to make marginal improvements to pay packages, but remain far short of the wages, benefits, and working conditions at the unionized automakers.
“Turnover at the plant is a serious problem,” said Josh Epperson, an equipment operator in assembly. “I have trained new people on the line and most of them are gone in a few months. They don’t have the tools and the support they need to thrive. With the union, we can improve working conditions. If there’s an issue in our work area, we’ll have a way to address it. We’ll find common ground so we can make it a good job and people will want to stay.”
“I come from a union family, I know the difference the union makes,” said Drew Hall, a production team member in paint. “My father grew up here, then moved to Michigan and got a job with Ford. He had to retire early with a disability and the union made sure he got his full pension and retiree health care. He moved back to Chattanooga and lived a good life for 25 more years. The union made that possible. It’s a better way of life.”
Thousands of non-union autoworkers across the country are signing union cards at UAW.org/join, and the UAW has released informational videos on workers’ legal rights, and the record auto industry profits spurring workers to demand a better deal.