April 19, 2024 9:00am

Power Poll gives UAW the edge at VW but uncertainty looms

Survey respondents sour on union representation impact on local/state economy

Photo of Chris Vass
Chattanooga, TN Correspondent

As Volkswagen employees wrap up their vote on UAW representation today, almost half of respondents to this month’s Power Poll said they think the UAW will prevail in its third effort to unionize the Chattanooga auto plant.

More two-and-a-half-times as many respondents — 45% to 17% — said VW workers would approve of the UAW bargaining on their behalf.

But a healthy minority — 38% — said they are not sure about the vote outcome, which won’t be known until late this evening.

This week’s election is considered a key marker for the United Auto Workers, which lost elections at VW here in 2014 and 2019 by slim margins.

But 2024 is very different from 2019. The UAW is riding a wave of momentum, bolstered by successful strikes against the so-called “Big Three” automakers in 2023. President Joe Biden even walked the picket lines in Detroit. Recent Gallup public opinion surveys also show the strongest public support for unions in decades.

In February, UAW officials said they would commit $40 million to organizing non-union auto and EV battery plants over the next few years. Workers at a Mercedes auto plant in Alabama are expected to next month on UAW representation.

Even though many Power Poll respondents think the unionization effort will be successful, just under half of survey takers don’t think the UAW ultimately will benefit workers.

When asked: “Do you think union representation at the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant will benefit VW employees?” 48% said “no” while 34% said “yes.” Eighteen percent were not sure.

Nick Decosimo, a senior advisor at Decosimo Corporate Finance, wrote that today, “unions now exist primarily to perpetuate themselves through political action for the benefit of union leadership. And that leadership is remarkably and demonstrably corrupt.”

Mike Gloekler, head of corporate communications and public relations at McKee Foods, also weighed in: "The history of corruption in American labor unions far outweighs the stated benefits promised, and often not delivered, to unionized employees."

Poll respondents were more firm in their assessment of the impact of the union vote on the local and state economy.

Asked if UAW representation will benefit the local and state economy:

› 56% of respondents said “no” on local and state economy;

› 18% said “yes” on local and state economy;

› 20% were unsure;

› 4% said “yes” on local economy but “no” on state economy and 1% said “no” on local economy” and “yes” on state economy.

Those responses parallel answers to another question: “So you approve or disapprove of labor unions?” More than half — 55% — said they either disapprove or acknowledge that unions have a right to exist but are not positive.

Another 40% think that unions provide a important balance between management and its workforce and help maintain positive relations (31%) or that unions are necessary (9%) to argue for better pay, health and other benefits.

Union supporters and opponents ratcheted up their rhetoric as the voting period in Chattanooga approached, with Tennessee’s top elected officials and local legislative leaders calling on VW employees to reject the UAW. Earlier this week, GOP governors of six Southern states issued a joint statement opposing the UAW’s push into the region.

Union proponents have argued that it’s time for workers to have more of a say in compensation and benefits and a voice on the job. They have expressed confidence they will win this time around.

In his comments, Gloekler offered the 60,000-foot view:

"Employers should foster open forums of discussion and practice transparency to remove the perception that third-party interventions are required to have fruitful labor/management conversations and to run an equitable workplace."

Contact Chris Vass at cvass@timesfreepress.com or cvass@powerpoll.com.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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