CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The failure of the United Auto Workers to unionize employees at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee underscores a cultural disconnect between a labor-friendly German company and anti-union sentiment in the South.
The multiyear effort to organize Volkswagen's only U.S. plant was defeated on a 712-626 vote Friday night amid heavy campaigning on both sides.
Workers voting against the union said while they remain open to the creation of a German-style "works council" at the plant, they were unwilling to risk the future of the Volkswagen factory that opened to great fanfare on the site of a former Army ammunition plant in 2011.
"Come on, this is Chattanooga, Tennessee," said worker Mike Jarvis, who was among the group in the plant that organized to fight the UAW. "It's the greatest thing that's ever happened to us."
Jarvis, who hangs doors, trunk lids and hoods on cars said workers also were worried about the union's historical impact on Detroit automakers and the many plants that have been closed in the North, he said.
"Look at every company that's went bankrupt or shut down or had an issue," he said. "What is the one common denominator with all those companies? UAW. We don't need it."
Pocketbook issues were also on opponents' minds, Jarvis said. Workers were suspicious that Volkswagen and the union might have already reached "cost containment" agreements that could have led to a cut in their hourly pay rate, he said.
Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, who has been among the UAW's most vocal critics, said at the time that Volkswagen would become a "laughingstock" in the business world if it welcomed the union to its plant.
Volkswagen wants to create works council at the plant, which represents both blue collar and salaried workers. But to do so under U.S. law requires the establishment of an independent union. Several workers who cast votes against the union said they still support the idea of a works council - they just don't want to have to work through the UAW.