Historic UAW vote at U.S. Volkswagen plant nears finish line
By Bernie Woodall
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. Feb 14 (Reuters) - Workers at Volkswagen AG's plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, had just a few hours left on Friday to cast their ballots in a vote that could decide whether the once-powerful United Auto Workers union will gain a foothold in the foreign-owned auto industry that has sprung up in the American South.
The vote to allow workers' union representation at the Chattanooga plant will have wide-reaching implications for the auto industry in the South, where most foreign-owned plants employ nonunion labor, and for the UAW, which could use a victory to reverse a decades-long downward spiral.
The three-day vote by VW's 1,550 hourly workers at its sole U.S. plant is scheduled to end at 8:30 p.m. EST (0130 GMT Saturday). The results could be announced soon after that.
Voting turnout was heaviest on Wednesday, according to local workers, with an estimated 1,000 employees casting ballots. On Friday, when the plant normally is shut down for weekly maintenance, many of the maintenance workers were expected to cast their paper ballots, all of which will be counted individually after the vote closes.
For the UAW, whose U.S. membership has plummeted by 75 percent since 1979, a win could open the door to organizing other foreign-owned auto plants in the U.S. South, the cornerstone of UAW President Bob King's strategy.
A loss could accelerate the decline in membership, now at just under 400,000 from a peak of 1.5 million. It also would reinforce the widely held notion that the UAW cannot make significant inroads in a region that historically has been steadfastly anti-union. Virtually every state in the U.S. South has passed right-to-work legislation that gives workers the choice of joining a union and paying union dues.
For VW, the stakes also are high. The German automaker invested $1 billion in the Chattanooga plant, which began building Passat mid-size sedans in April 2011, after being awarded more than $577 million in state and local incentives.
VW executives have said a new seven-passenger crossover vehicle, due in 2016 and known internally as CrossBlue, could be built at either Chattanooga or the company's sprawling Puebla complex in Mexico, depending on the incentives offered at either location. Continuación...