Defeat of Auto Union in Tennessee Casts Its Strategy Into Doubt

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from The New York Times,

Bob King has pursued one goal above all as president of the United Automobile Workers — to unionize several foreign-owned auto plants in the South. He said he viewed that as pivotal if his once-mighty union was to gain numbers and strength after decades of decline.

The first step was to unionize the Volkswagen plant here, but Mr. King was stunned by the results of the unionization vote announced late Friday. In one of the most closely watched unionization elections in decades, the U.A.W. lost, with workers voting, 712 to 626, against joining the union.

This will slow and perhaps derail Mr. King’s ambitious plans to unionize other plants in the South. For months, U.A.W. organizers have been contacting workers at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala., with the hope that it might soon follow VW into the union fold.

In a news conference, Mr. King conveyed anger and bafflement at the results. He and his union thought they would win partly because Volkswagen, unlike most American companies, vowed to remain neutral and not oppose unionization.

Mr. King blamed Republican lawmakers for the loss. They made numerous anti-union arguments — and a few threats — to discourage workers from unionizing. Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, contended that auto parts suppliers would not come to the Chattanooga area if that meant being located near a unionized VW plant. Senator Bob Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga, said VW executives had told him the plant would add a second production line, making sport utility vehicles, if workers rejected the U.A.W. Mr. Corker and some outside conservative groups told workers that the U.A.W. had contributed to the struggles of Detroit’s automakers and would make VW less competitive — a view echoed by some workers.

Adding to the anti-union pressure, Bo Watson, a state senator who represents a Chattanooga suburb, said the Republican-controlled Legislature was unlikely to approve further subsidies to Volkswagen if the plant unionized. Some workers feared that his threat would cause Chattanooga to lose the planned S.U.V. line to a VW plant in Mexico.

“We are outraged that people in the political arena decided that they were going to threaten workers and that they were going to threaten the company,” Mr. King said. “The threats against the workers were what shifted things.”

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