Governors decry UAW push to unionize car factories in southern states

Six Republican governors are condemning efforts by the United Auto Workers to organize car factories in their states, a flash point as the labor group tries to build on its success last year winning concessions from the Big Three automakers by making inroads in the historically union-averse South. 

“We have a responsibility to our constituents to speak up when we see special interests looking to come into our state and threaten our jobs and the values we live by,” the governors of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas said Tuesday in a joint statement. 

The governors spoke out against the UAW a day before 4,300 Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., are set to start voting on whether to join the union. The factory is Volkswagen’s North American electric-vehicle assembly hub, where the UAW narrowly lost union votes in 2014 and 2019. Workers at the plant will cast ballots from Wednesday through Friday evening. 

Volkswagen has said it respects the workers’ right to vote on whether to join the UAW. But the governors who criticized the union drive said “we do not need to pay a third party to tell us who can pick up a box or flip a switch,” while also framing the campaign as a move to support President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. 

The UAW, which has endorsed President Biden’s reelection bid, declined to comment. 

The UAW in the fall negotiated record contracts for 150,000 workers at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler-parent Stellantis, while some nonunion factories also subsequently announced pay increases for workers. After leading a six-week strike at the companies, UAW President Shawn Fain last fall vowed to organize nonunion companies across the industry, from foreign automakers with U.S. operations to electric vehicle makers like Tesla.

In November, VW gave workers an 11% pay raise at the Chattanooga plant, but the UAW said VW’s pay still lags behind the Detroit automakers. Top assembly plant workers in Chattanooga make $32.40 per hour, VW said.

The UAW pacts with Detroit automakers included 25% pay raises by the time the contracts end in April of 2028. With cost-of-living increases, workers will see about 33% in raises for a top assembly wage of $42 per hour, plus annual profit sharing.

The union is also gaining ground in other southern states, with the UAW saying in February that a majority of workers at a Mercedes plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, have signed cards in support of joining the labor group

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