In this June 12, 2013 file photo, workers assemble Volkswagen Passat sedans at the German automaker's plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. (AP Photo/ Erik Schelzig, file)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An official with the United Auto Workers, which suffered a stinging defeat in its attempt to unionize Volkswagen's assembly plant in Tennessee earlier this year, said Thursday that it is forming a new local at the plant.
The union is confident the German automaker will recognize the union if it signs up a enough workers at the Chattanooga plant, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel told The Tennessean newspaper. If successful, it would become the first unionized foreign auto plant in the South.
"We would fully expect that Volkswagen would deal with this local union if it represents a substantial portion of its employees," Casteel told the paper. "It's dependent on the employees and what they want to do."
Gov. Bill Haslam and his staff understand "that there is no agreement between the company and the UAW," spokesman David Smith wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday.
"It is most appropriate for the company to speak for itself on this issue," Smith said.
A Volkswagen spokesman declined to comment to The AP.
The union last year said it had signed up a majority of plant workers, but it ultimately lost a contentious February vote 712-626.
UAW organizers blamed the narrow defeat on public statements from GOP politicians warning that a union win could imperil economic incentives for the plant's expansion. The union filed — but later abandoned — a challenge of the outcome with the National Labor Relations Board.
The turmoil surrounding the labor vote has delayed a Volkswagen decision on whether to build a new midsized SUV in Chattanooga or in Mexico. The new model is seen as key to reviving flagging VW sales in North America.
It's unclear whether Thursday's UAW announcement could affect renewed efforts to negotiate expansion incentives at the plant. The money would have to be approved by the Republican-controlled state Legislature, which is heavily anti-union.
Documents leaked after the union vote revealed that Tennessee had sought to tie a $300 million incentive offer for expanding the plant to what it deemed a "satisfactory" outcome of the labor situation there.
Volkswagen wants to introduce a works council at the plant to represent both salaried and blue-collar workers, but the company's interpretation of U.S. law has been that it can't do so without the involvement of an independent union.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and a former Chattanooga mayor, was particularly vocal during union vote, predicting the company would announce an expansion within two weeks of workers rejecting the union. The senator later blamed the UAW appeal — and the resulting delay in certifying the results of the union election — for putting a hold on expansion talks at the plant.
The Chattanooga plant has been seen as the union's best chance to win in the South because other automakers have not been as welcoming to organized labor as with Volkswagen. Labor interests make up half of the supervisory board at VW in Germany, and they have questioned why the Chattanooga plant is the company's only major factory worldwide without formal worker representation.