The vote by Volkswagen workers in Tennessee to become United Auto Workers members hands the union its first win in a campaign to unionize factories outside of the Detroit Three automakers — Ford Motor Co., Stellantis and General Motors. In the final tally, 73% of votes cast in the election run by the National Labor Relations Board were in favor of joining the union.

The UAW fell short in previous votes at the Chattanooga plant in 2014 and 2019. It hopes to use the April 19 victory to galvanize autoworkers’ unionization efforts in other states in the South. Mercedes-Benz workers in Vance, Alabama, are scheduled to vote in May on whether to join the UAW. The UAW also cited union campaigns by autoworkers at Hyundai in Montgomery, Alabama, and Toyota in Troy, Missouri.

Background: UAW is riding a wave of union support

  • Unions across industries won major highly publicized victories in 2023, demonstrating that organized labor still wields some power even as the percentage of unionized workers has reached record lows.

  • The UAW organized a series of strikes last fall against the Detroit Three automakers, which helped the union secure historic pay raises, among other concessions in workers’ latest contracts.

  • Coming off those wins, the UAW announced a push to unionize autoworkers in the South and at foreign automakers’ U.S. plants.

Key stats behind UAW’s unionization push

Nationally, just 10% of all workers were members of a union in 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the unionization rate differs dramatically between states. Southern states have some of the lowest unionization rates in the country.

What UAW President Shawn Fain is saying

UAW President Shawn Fain, who led the series of strikes last fall, told The Associated Press that Friday’s victory in Tennessee would have an impact beyond the auto industry.

“This gives workers everywhere else the indication that it’s OK,” Fain said. “All we’ve heard for years is we can’t win here, you can’t do this in the South, and you can.”

Who opposes the UAW’s efforts

  • Governors from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas released a joint statement last week, saying unionization would jeopardize jobs and economic growth.

  • The UAW has filed unfair labor practice charges against multiple automakers, including Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes and Volkswagen, over the use of anti-union tactics.

  • The union filed charges in April against Mercedes in Germany, claiming the company violated a German global supply chain law by conducting a campaign against the union in Alabama.

(Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty News via Images)

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