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Sparks

The ID.4 Could Be Volkswagen’s First EV Made With U.S. Union Labor

The UAW makes its first move.

A Volkswagen sign.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

In Shawn Fain’s victory speech after the United Autoworkers won significant raises and benefits from the Big Three automakers earlier this fall, the union president promised to go on to accomplish what no other UAW president had managed to do. “We’re going to organize non-union auto companies like we’ve never organized before,” he said.

On Thursday, the union made its first move: Workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee went public with a union drive, announcing that more than 30% of the plant had signed union authorization cards.

After the UAW won 25% raises in its deals with GM, Ford, and Stellantis, Volkswagen gave its workers an 11% raise. In a press release, workers at the Chattanooga plant said they were striking due to pay that lagged behind their unionized peers, mistreatment by management, forced overtime, and a lack of time off. “Turnover at the plant is a serious problem,” said Josh Epperson, an equipment operator in assembly. “I have trained new people on the line and most of them are gone in a few months. They don’t have the tools and the support they need to thrive.”

The Chattanooga plant opened 15 years ago and is VW’s only factory in the U.S.; by contrast, all of the company’s workers in Germany are unionized. The U.S. plant currently produces the VW Atlas, Atlas Sport, and the company’s only electric model currently available here, the ID.4.

Workers at the U.S. plant have already attempted to unionize twice, in 2014 and 2019, both of which were narrow losses. An account of what went wrong in 2019 by Chris Brooks, a labor activist and current strategist for Shawn Fain, said that lawmakers threatened to pull incentives for the plant’s expansion and new electric vehicle line if the plant flipped.

Similar expansions are on the table again this time around. In early November, senior vice president and head of strategy at VW Group of America Reinhard Fischer announced plans to bring a new, under-$35,000 EV to the U.S. market. He said the company would either build the vehicle at the Chattanooga Plant or in Puebla, Mexico. He also said that the company was considering assembling battery packs for the vehicle in the U.S. due to subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act.

While 30% support is low, it clears the threshold to submit a petition to the National Labor Relations Board to hold a vote on the union’s formation. Still, the Chattanooga workers are likely to hold off for more. The UAW has said that once 50% of workers at a nonunion plant sign cards, Fain will hold a rally at the plant. If the drive gets 70% support, UAW will seek recognition from the company, or otherwise submit a petition to the NLRB.

There are 13 non-union automakers operating in the U.S. Tesla, which has six factories here, could be next — Fain told Reuters that many workers at the EV giant have also expressed interest in organizing.

Green
Emily Pontecorvo profile image

Emily Pontecorvo

Emily is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Previously she was a staff writer at the nonprofit climate journalism outlet Grist, where she covered all aspects of decarbonization, from clean energy to electrified buildings to carbon dioxide removal.

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