Erik Schelzig / AP
For the second time in recent years, auto workers at a Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, voted very little against a union.
That was the difference of 57 votes.
Preliminary results show that, on three voting days, 833 workers supported the union, but 776 rejected it.
The result is seen as the latest blow to trade union organizations in the South, where trade union advocates have been trying for years to strengthen representation in automobile facilities in the face of the dwindling number of union members and the fierce opposition of many lawmakers in the region. region.
A slim majority of 51% of the approximately 1,600 ballots cast slaughtered him. The last time United Auto Workers held a vote to hold the Chattanooga plant in 2014, about 53% of workers rejected the proposal.
For Volkswagen officials, the latest defeat of the unions shows that anti-union sentiment remains strong among factory workers.
"Our employees took the floor," said Frank Fischer, President and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga.
Volkswagen was officially neutral in this month's vote and in 2014.
Fischer said the National Labor Relations Board must still certify the results, which will then be subject to a legal review.
"Volkswagen will respect the majority decision," Fischer said in a statement to NPR.
A union victory at the Chattanooga factory reportedly delivered UAW its first fully unionized car plant in the South.
Following the unsuccessful attempt to form a union, a smaller group of interviewers voted in favor of unionization, but Volkswagen would not negotiate with them unless all paid workers at the time have the opportunity to vote. This paved the way for this vote.
Trade union experts in Tennessee, where resistance to unions is deep, have pointed to the particularly energetic opposition of Republican state leaders to the Chattanooga power station that was organizing this time around.
At one point, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee went to the site to speak to the workers before the vote.
"When I have a direct relationship with you, the worker, and you work for me, it's when the environment works best," Lee told the workers, according to a leaked record. of his conversation.
The visit surprised some observers.
"It is not unusual that US governors and senators loudly oppose unions of private companies," union spokesman Daniel Cornfield told Vanderbilt University. "What is unusual is that this governor went into the factory and spoke directly to the workers."
The Governor's visit and the publicity campaigns surrounding the vote added to the debates in the workshops that could still last after the vote.
Christopher Bitton, a worker at the Chattanooga factory who opposed the union, said that the preparation of the vote had heightened the divisions between the workers and that he was not sure what to do. did not expect these tensions to dissipate.
"There was a clear division between pro and anti on the field," Bitton told NPR member WPLN. "And after it's over, I do not know if it'll clear up."
Trade union officials accused Volkswagen officials of interfering in the vote by "legal games", saying that workers were threatened and intimidated, as well as a "disinformation campaign" before the vote.
Workers at the Chattanooga plant usually start getting paid $ 15.50 an hour. Just months before the union vote, the company announced salary increases for members of the production team. Although it is a high salary compared to the median wage in Chattanooga, it is lower than that of unionized auto workers.
Volkswagen is represented by unions in all its other large factories around the world, but none of its southern factories have unions across its factories.
Cornfield, Vanderbilt's union expert, said pro-union activists could see a glimmer of hope in the count of votes.
"This is not an overwhelming victory for the anti-union forces," he said.