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Family farmers call for tougher CAFO regulations in Farm Bill; The Midwest and Northeast brace for record high temperature in heatwave; Financial-justice advocates criticize crypto regulation bill; Ohio advocates: New rules strengthen protections for sexual-assault victims.

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VW workers make history as first Southern automaker to unionize

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Monday, April 22, 2024   

Late Friday, a majority of Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga overwhelmingly voted to join the United Auto Workers.

The vote is historic, as they are the first workers in the South outside the "Big Three" automakers to be successful. Among the more than 3,600 workers, 73% voted for the UAW to represent them.

Isaac Meadows, an assembly line worker and member of the volunteer organizing committee, said the Volkswagen workers now have a voice.

"We actually now have a vested interest in this company as a partnership," Meadows explained. "We get to negotiate our pay, our benefits, our working schedule, and then ultimately, demand the respect that we deserve in the workplace."

The vote to unionize came despite opposition from six Southern governors, including Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.

President Joe Biden congratulated the Volkswagen workers for their groundbreaking decision.

Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers, in a victory speech after the vote, praised workers for their decadelong fight and said now, they have to continue to stand together.

"The real fight begins now," Fain asserted. "The real fight is getting your fair share. The real fight is the fight to get more time with your families. The real fight is to fight for our union contracts."

Sharon Block, professor of practice at the Center for Labor and a Just Economy at Harvard Law School, said the Chattanooga vote will radiate strength to other campaigns, including Mercedes-Benz workers at an Alabama plant who will vote to organize next month.

"Workers for a long time have been told, 'You can't organize in the South. The labor movement is on a downslide; it's not possible,'" Block observed. The UAW showed that it can be done, and I think that just opens up a window of possibility."

Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, associate professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, said research indicates when unions establish themselves in specific businesses and sectors, they create ripple effects on nonunionized plants. He added when workers benefit, communities benefit.

"When workers have higher wages and better working conditions, it allows them to better participate in their local communities, better support their families," Hertel-Fernandez emphasized. "I think there's good reason to think that this is going to help the local community in which the plant operates."

He predicted the win will fuel future UAW efforts in the South.


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