Friday, November 28, 2014 · 3:17 a.m.
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Volkswagen Chattanooga President Frank Fischer and UAW leader Gary Casteel both spoke at a Friday night news conference. They announced that the UAW won't represent local workers. (Photo: Staff)

Volkswagen employees voted against representation by the United Auto Workers Union, officials announced Friday night.

Retired Circuit Court Judge Sam Payne read the results, while Volkswagen President Frank Fischer and UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who represents the Southern region, stood together. 

Participation was 89 percent, and a total of 1,338 votes were cast. 

Volkswagen workers voted against joining the union in a 712-626 vote.

"They have spoken, and Volkswagen will respect the decision of the majority," Fischer said.  

The National Labor Relations Board still has to certify the results. 

"Our employees have not made a decision that they are against the works council," Fischer also said. 

A German works council is similar to a union in the United States because its members help represent workers. But it’s different in that it is representation from within the company instead of third-party representation. The dual model of representation includes representation from both an internal works council and external union.

Casteel said that Volkswagen and the UAW have built a great foundation of trust and indicated there could be additional actions taken moving forward.

"There are still some issues that have to be sorted out about this election—the impact of others and whatnot," he said. 

UAW President Bob King said after the vote Friday night that he and other leaders are "outraged" that politicians made threats leading up to the election. He said that may have made the difference. 

Earlier this week, Sen. Bob Corker said that workers should vote against representation by the United Auto Workers, and—if they do—company leaders will announce that the new SUV will be built in Chattanooga.  

After Friday night’s announcement, Corker said he was "thrilled" with the results.

In what some took as a threat, Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, who both represent different parts of Hamilton County in the state Legislature, said that having the UAW here will make it difficult for the Legislature to approve incentives for further expansion of the local plant.

King said that comments from politicians may have hurt the UAW in the election.

Friday night, State Democratic leaders condemned the Republicans' conduct before the election.

After remaining silent on the issue for a while, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke criticized Republican lawmakers for their "attacks against Volkswagen."

He said that now that the workers have decided, it’s time to focus on bringing more "living-wage, middle-class jobs" to Chattanooga.

King said he doesn't have the answers tonight about whether there will be a challenge of the results, but leaders will look at their legal options. They will explore those quickly over the next few days, he said.

"One great thing about workers and about the UAW is we don't quit," he said. "We take setbacks and we fight another day." 

And he said the situation is bigger than this election. In the auto industry, the temporary workforce is growing, he said. And that affects all auto wages, King said.

"The average wage of autoworkers is slipping because all workers aren't together and unified," King said. 

"What I hope the American public understands is that those people who attacked this were attacking labor-management cooperation," he also said.

He said the defeat is a "setback" but that it doesn’t mean that UAW leaders will stop fighting for what they believe in.

And UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis William also noted that it took years to organize Ford.

Jack Nerad, executive editorial director at Kelley Blue Book, called the setback a serious one.

"In VW, the union had management that seemed neutral to positive toward its attempt to organize the plant’s workers, and it still failed to gain certification," he said in a prepared statement. "The UAW’s attempts to organize other nonunion plants in the United States are very unlikely to be greeted with as much cooperation from other manufacturers, so this could mark the end to UAW hopes to gain traction in these nonunion Southern state plants."

David Smith, Gov Bill Haslam's spokesman, said, "The governor is pleased with the outcome and looks forward to working with the company on future growth in Tennessee."

VW employee Chuck Luttrell said he had tears of joy when he heard the results.

"It's a big relief," he said. "Now, we go back to work, together as one team." 

Volkswagen issued the following statement:

Volkswagen Chattanooga employees have voted in a secret ballot election against United Auto Workers (UAW) representation. Participation in the election was 89 percent. Fifty-three percent of the eligible employees who voted decided against the UAW as their bargaining representative in an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) between Feb. 12–14. 

"On behalf of Volkswagen Group of America, I want to thank all of our Chattanooga production and maintenance employees for their participation in this week's vote. They have spoken, and Volkswagen will respect the decision of the majority," said Frank Fischer, CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga. "The election results remain to be certified by the NLRB.

"... Throughout this process, we found great enthusiasm for the idea of an American-style works council both inside and outside our plant," Fischer noted. "Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a works council in accordance with the requirements of U.S. labor law to meet VW America's production needs and serve our employees’ interests."

Sebastian Patta, vice president for human resources, said: "While there was intense outside interest in this election, our managers and employees inside the plant maintained high-quality production and continued to work together in a calm and respectful manner."

"Our commitment to Tennessee is a long-term investment. We look forward to continuing to work with the state of Tennessee and the city of Chattanooga to support job creation, growth and economic development today and into the future," Fischer added.

Updated @ 10:31 p.m. on 2/14/14 to add more information as it became available.
Updated @ 10:50 p.m. on 2/14/14 to correct a factual error: The Chuck Luttrell quote was originally attributed to Mike Burton.
Updated @ 11:19 p.m. on 2/14/14 to add more information as it became available.
Updated @ 11:31 p.m. on 2/14/14 to add more information as it became available.
Updated @ 1:17 a.m. on 2/15/14 to add more information as it became available.

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