CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee -- Workers at Volkswagen's plant here voted to reject United Auto Workers representation, dealing a devastating loss to the union, which saw the factory as its best chance to gain a toehold at a foreign-owned assembly plant in the U.S. South.
Results of the vote -- 712 opposed to the UAW and 626 in favor -- were released Friday by retired Tennessee Circuit Court Judge Sam Payne after three days of voting at the plant, where the company builds the Passat sedan.
Volkswagen said 89 percent of approximately 1,500 workers eligible to vote participated in the election.
"While we certainly would have liked a victory for workers here, we deeply respect the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, Volkswagen management and IG Metall for doing their best to create a free and open atmosphere for workers to exercise their basic human right to form a union," UAW President Bob King said in a statement.
The National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the voting, must still certify the results.
Volkswagen did not resist the organizing drive, which made it unusually easy for the UAW to win workers' support for a vote.
Still, the election attracted widespread national attention from third-party union supporters and opponents, and they spent the past few weeks trying to sway the outcome with billboards, radio spots and other messages.
Some elected officials in Tennessee opposed to the unionization drive also worried that a UAW win would undermine the state's ability to attract future private investment and jobs. In some cases, they threatened to withhold future incentives for VW if the union was successful.
"While we're outraged by politicians and outside special interest groups interfering with the basic legal right of workers to form a union, we're proud that these workers were brave and stood up to the tremendous pressure from outside," UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams, who directs the union's transnational program, said in a statement. "We hope this will start a larger discussion about workers' right to organize."
King told reporters after the results were released that the union will decide in the next few days whether to appeal the vote on grounds it was influenced by outside parties.
"What I hope the American public understands is that those people who attacked us were attacking labor-management cooperation. They don't believe in workers and management working together. We believe in that. And we believe the workers here will ultimately prevail," King said.
"It's never happened in this country before that a U.S. senator, a governor, a leader of the House, a leader of the legislature here, would threaten the company with no incentives, threaten workers with a loss of product. We think that's outrageous," King added. "We'll look at all of our options in the next few days."