Could workers in a Southern state join an auto union?

A worker checking a Volkswagen Golf model on a production line.

Workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee will vote on whether they want union representation on Wednesday through Friday. Gov. Bill Haslam* and Sen. Jack Johnson (who is also chair of the state's Commerce and Labor Committee), both oppose the union moving in.

There are two big reasons foreign auto makers who want to build cars in the U.S. look to the Southeast: cheaper labor and generous state incentives. The United Auto Workers union has tried to organize in America's foreign auto plants in previous years, without much success.

"One of our big selling points is that we are right-to-work, and quite frankly I don't think they need that union organization for the benefit of the employees," Johnson argued.

As far as pay disputes and potential strikes? That's going to be tricky for United Auto Workers. 

"I think the UAW does not have an incentive to go in there and jam up wages super-high in such a way that it makes Volkswagen fail," says Aaron Sojourner, a labor economist at the University of Minnesota. Sojourner says if that happens, the union can kiss goodbye any hope of getting into more foreign-owned factories, especially in the South.

 


*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the governor of Tennessee. It's Bill Haslam. The text has been corrected.

 

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