Sean P. Redmond Sean P. Redmond
Vice President, Labor Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


March 27, 2024


According to news reports and a notice from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the United Auto Workers (UAW) and Volkswagen (VW) have reached an agreement to hold a union representation election for Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, production facility in mid-April. This development is just the latest in the UAW’s relentless, decade-long quest to unionize the VW facility after previous attempts have failed. 

In the wake of negotiating new contracts with the Detroit 3, the UAW has pledged to organize non-union automakers around the country. UAW President Shawn Fain reportedly has said that once 70% of workers at a plant have signed cards, the union would file for an election. Thus far, VW’s plant is the only place where that has happened. 

But it is important to understand what those cards mean. Unlike card check, where a union can be recognized with no election, the authorization cards at VW signify only that 70% of workers have indicated an ostensible interest in an election. Still, those cards may not actually signify that at all.

In fact, workers sign cards for all sorts of reasons. In some cases, they may support the union. In other cases, they may sign to get a union organizer off their back, or because they are intimidated into doing so, or they may not want to say no when the organizer is right in front of them. 

When the election comes, any VW worker who has signed a card can still vote “no” in the election, and because it is a secret ballot election, no one will know how they vote. Put another way, the cards signed at VW do not necessarily mean there will be a union. It just means there will be a secret ballot election where every worker, even those who signed cards, can vote however they would like.

The UAW knows this all too well. The union first attempted to organize VW’s Chattanooga plant way back in 2014, but VW employees rebuffed it in a vote of 712 to 626. In the lead-up to that vote, VW actually handed the UAW several concessions to facilitate its organizing efforts. For example, the company agreed to remain neutral on the question of organizing, and it allowed UAW organizers into the plant to convince workers to sign up for representation by the union. In fact, the UAW reportedly had an office inside the plant. Despite all that, workers said “no, thank you” to the UAW. 

The following year, UAW then decided to form a “micro-union” of 160 maintenance workers and seek a formal election among just those employees, which VW challenged in court—presumably because it realized how unruly it would be to have a hodgepodge of different micro-bargaining units under the same roof. The UAW ultimately abandoned that effort. 

Fast forward to 2019, and the UAW took another crack at organizing the entire Chattanooga plant. VW employees again rejected the union by a vote of 833-776. 

As the UAW’s experience has shown—presumably, it had plenty of authorization cards in its two failed attempts—workers frequently register their opposition to union representation behind the curtain of a voting booth, away from the prying eyes of union organizers. That explains why the UAW did not ask for an election until 70% of VW’s workers had signed cards—it seems that organizers anticipate that not everyone who signed really supports unionizing.

Now that a vote is planned for VW’s Chattanooga plant, only time will tell the outcome. For workers there, voting in the election will be the only way to register their true feelings even if they have already signed a card. Given a little time, they may think twice about supporting a union that is under Congressional investigation

About the authors

Sean P. Redmond

Sean P. Redmond

Sean P. Redmond is Vice President, Labor Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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