The United Auto Workers union has begun passing out cards to employees of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga to determine whether there is enough support to hold a union representation the cards are not the official instruments the union would have to collect from at least 30 percent of the plant's hourly workers to force a union vote, said Gary Casteel, director of the UAW's District 8, which includes Tennessee."We have not started an official organizing campaign," he said, refuting some national media reports."What got some people up in arms is that we passed out some cards, but they were never about setting up an election," Casteel said. "The cards were just gauging the level of support."That characterization was confirmed by Volkswagen spokesman Guenther Scherelis at the plant, which has about 2,700 workers employed directly by the German automaker to build the midsize Passat sedan."We heard that they had distributed those cards, but it is an initiative of the union and not omething that Volkswagen is involved in," Scherelis employees said they had seen the cards or were aware of the union's interest in organizing the plant, but there seems to be no clear consensus on whether there would be enough support to force a union election, much less on whether the UAW could win that vote if it occurred.
While it takes only 30 percent of the workforce to sign cards requesting a union vote - which would then have to be held by secret ballot within 40 days - the UAW has said it would want to see a much higher percentage than that before calling for a vote.In recent years, unions generally want at least 75 percent of a workforce to sign cards before a vote is scheduled. The success rate for union referendums drops significantly when lower percentages of workers sign ballot cards, according to statistics of the National Labor Relations Board, which conducts such votes.Pay disparity existsVolkswagen's hourly pay begins at about $14 and can range to nearly $20 an hour. New workers at UAW facilities such as the General Motors plant in Spring Hill begin at about $17 an hour, and experienced workers make about $29, plus the VW plant, older workers are more supportive of the union than younger employees are. Some younger workers fear they could lose some of their current benefits if the union negotiates a contract with Volkswagen.One of those benefits is a popular vehicle leasing plan through which workers can get a new Volkswagen or Audi vehicle every six months and finance it via payroll deductions. Volkswagen announced in July 2008 that it would spend more than $1 billion to build the Chattanooga plant, which began building the new American-only version of the Passat midsize sedan in April 2011.Sales have been so robust that Volkswagen announced March 22 that it would begin hiring an additional 800 workers and open a third shift to meet consumer demand.
UAW President Bob King has said the union's goal is to organize at least one of the South's foreign auto plants within the next couple of years, with hopes of expanding to others if the first union drive is successful. Industry experts say the UAW's survival is at stake, as its membership has dropped to only 390,000 nationwide from 1.5 million in 1979. Volkswagen, based in Wolfsburg, Germany, has 62 production facilities worldwide, and Chattanooga is the only one that isn't unionized. If Volkswagen workers go union, it would be a first among the foreign-based automakers that have built operations in the South, starting with Nissan in Smyrna in 1983.Other nonunion, foreign-owned plants are operated by Japanese automakers Nissan in Mississippi; Toyota in Kentucky, Alabama, Texas and Mississippi; and Honda in Alabama; German automakers Mercedes-Benz in Alabama and BMW in South Carolina; and South Korea's Hyundai and Kia in Alabama and UAW failed in two efforts at organizing Nissan's Smyrna facility in 1989 and 2001. Unionization drives also have failed at other plants, including the Mercedes-Benz factory near Tuscaloosa, Ala.Cruz & Associates OverviewCruz & Associates is one of the nation's leading labor relations firms, helping businesses manage change in the workplace. We are experienced forward-thinkers who combine hands-on success solving difficult human resources and labor and human resources challenges, with new strategic solutions for keeping the workforce connected to the goals of the organization.Change is the watchword of the future.
Old boundaries are gone. Markets are moving faster than ever before. While organizations can't predict the future, they can be ready for whatever it brings by using the best communications and human resources practices to educate, motivate and align their employees to new operating realities.Cruz & Associates has helped hundreds of clients from small businesses to Fortune 100 corporations achieve employee buy-in for new business realities, often in come-from-behind situations. To better serve our clients' needs, we have become more versatile in our capabilities. While we continue to offer the most effective labor relations and campaign management services, we have integrated them with communications strategies, interactive workplace skills, and change management solutions. We too have changed by recruiting top-ranked management professionals and expanding our network of alliance partners.