Some 1,570 workers at a Chattanooga, Tenn., Volkswagen plant will today finish a vote started Wednesday on whether they want to join the United Auto Workers union, in a potential turning point for the labor movement and the Southern auto industry. The UAW has never managed to organize a foreign-owned plant in three decades of trying, but this time it's got a powerful ally: Volkswagen. The German automaker wants the union to help it replicate the successful "works council" model it uses in Germany, in which workers help manage plant operations, the Washington Post reports. Germany's IG Metall union is also pressing for the UAW partnership, adds the Wall Street Journal.
But Republicans have launched an all-out assault to prevent that, arguing that it will blemish the low-cost, business-friendly image of the South, which claims nearly 20 such foreign-owned auto plants. (UAW is also courting workers at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala., and a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss.) Activists have put up billboards with slogans like, "Detroit: Brought to you by UAW." One state senator threatened Volkswagen, saying it would have would have a "very tough time" winning tax incentives from Tennessee's Republican legislature if it unionized. And Bob Corker yesterday said he was "very certain" that VW would build a new SUV in Chattanooga if workers vote down the union, Reuters reports. In reality, VW has said the vote will have no bearing on the decision, and Chattanooga's mayor is worried the politicized fight might drive VW to choose its Mexican plant instead. "We never want to put politics ahead of jobs," the mayor says.