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Governors decry United Auto Workers push to unionize car factories in six Southern states

UAW president Shawn Fain on labor's comeback
UAW president Shawn Fain on labor's comeback 09:12

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. 

"They're so scared," UAW strategist Chris Brooks wrote on social media in responding to the governors' statement. 

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

UAW chief Shawn Fain explains why the union endorsed Biden over Trump 06:49

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 a majority of workers at a Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, signing cards in support of joining the labor group

The National Labor Relations Board on Thursday said the Alabama vote would take place from May 13 to May 17 at facilities in Vance and Woodstock. The Mercedes facilities had about 6,100 employees as of the end of 2023. More than 5,000 are calling for the union vote, UAW has said.

In response to the workers' petition, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International stated that it "fully respects our Team Members' choice (on) whether to unionize." The company added that it plans to ensure all workers have a chance to cast their own secret-ballot vote and have access to "the information necessary to make an informed choice" during the election process.

The UAW has accused Mercedes management of anti-union tactics in recent weeks, filing federal labor charges against the company.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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