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UAW says over 1,000 workers at VW plant in Tenn. have signed cards seeking union representation

Signs for and against unionization in a roundabout along Volkswagen Drive in front of the Volkswagen plant in 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn. More than 1,000 workers at Volkswagen's Tennessee factory have signed cards authorizing a vote to be represented by the United Auto Workers union.Erin O. Smith/Associated Press

DETROIT — More than 1,000 workers at Volkswagen’s Tennessee factory have signed cards authorizing a vote on representation by the United Auto Workers, the first plant in the nation to reach that milestone in the UAW’s quest to organize more than a dozen nonunion factories.

The union says in a statement Thursday that the VW workers signed on in less than a week.

The factory in Chattanooga employs about 3,800 people who make the VW ID.4 electric vehicle and the Atlas family of gas-powered SUVs. It could become the first test of the union’s strategy to simultaneously try to organize the nonunion plants.

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The UAW statement says workers have complained about mistreatment by management including mandatory overtime on Saturdays, and they are seeking higher pay. A message was left Thursday seeking comment from VW.

In November, VW gave workers an 11 percent pay raise at the plant. The raises came after UAW members ratified new contracts with Detroit automakers. The union says VW’s pay lags behind what workers make at UAW-represented auto plants.

The UAW pacts with General Motors, Ford, and Jeep maker Stellantis include 25 percent pay raises by the time the contracts end in April 2028. With cost-of-living increases, workers will see about 33 percent in raises for a top assembly wage of $42 per hour, plus annual profit sharing, the union said.

In close votes in 2014 and 2019, workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant twice rejected a factory-wide union under the UAW. Some prominent Tennessee Republican politicians had urged workers to vote against the union during both campaigns.

The year after the 2014 vote failed, 160 Chattanooga maintenance workers won a vote to form a smaller union, but Volkswagen refused to bargain. Volkswagen had argued the bargaining unit also needed to include production workers. As a result, the 2019 factory-wide vote followed.

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Less than two weeks after ratifying new contracts with Detroit automakers, the UAW announced plans to try to simultaneously organize workers at the nonunion plants, most owned by foreign-based automakers.

The UAW says the drive covers nearly 150,000 workers at factories largely in the South, where the union has had little success in recruiting new members.

The drive will target US plants run by Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Subaru, Mazda, Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW, and Volvo. Also on the union’s list are US factories run by electric vehicle sales leader Tesla, as well as EV startups Rivian and Lucid.

The union says its strategy includes calling for an election at factories when about 70 percent of the workers sign up.

Workers at Nissan’s plant in Smyrna, Tenn., have likewise rejected a plantwide union twice under UAW, though the 2001 and 1989 votes were not close.

The Smyrna plant’s fewer than 100 tool and die workers also resoundingly voted this March against forming a union under the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, in a campaign hampered by two years of delays in front of the National Labor Relations Board.

The Japan-based automaker’s other US assembly plant in Canton, Miss., rejected facility-wide representation by the UAW during a 2017 vote.