Governors of six Southern states warn workers against joining UAW union

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In a high-profile attempt to head off unionization of their states’ auto factories, the governors of six Southern states warned their residents that joining the United Auto Workers would threaten jobs and “the values we live by.”

The joint statement from the Republican governors comes just a day before a Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., is set to vote on joining the UAW — the first of more than a dozen factories the union is targeting in the South as it attempts to break out of its Midwestern stronghold.

“The reality is companies have choices when it comes to where to invest and bring jobs and opportunity,” the governors of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas wrote. “Unionization would certainly put our states’ jobs in jeopardy.”

The remarkable intervention follows signs of optimism among pro-union workers at the VW plant, who in recent days have expressed hope that the vote will pass. It begins Wednesday and lasts three days, with results expected late Friday.

“They’re so scared,” UAW strategist Chris Brooks wrote on social media as he reposted Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s comment about the statement. The union didn’t otherwise provide a comment.

An economist who has closely studied unionization in the South called the statement “unprecedented and shocking” and said it discouraged workers from exercising their legal right to organize.

“It implies that the governors fear that the UAW will prevail in the upcoming union recognition election and that UAW success could upend their economic models built on relatively low pay and minimal worker voice,” Stephen Silvia, a professor at American University, said by email.

Tennessee Republicans have helped thwart two UAW attempts to unionize the VW factory, in 2014 and 2019, and have ramped up their opposition in recent weeks with news conferences and public statements. During a visit to Chattanooga this month, Gov. Bill Lee said joining the union would be “a big mistake.”

Some of the messages have stressed that the UAW endorsed President Biden and has long ties to the Democratic Party.

“We have serious reservations that the UAW leadership can represent our values. They proudly call themselves democratic socialists and seem more focused on helping President Biden get reelected than on the autoworker jobs being cut at plants they already represent,” the governors wrote.

Some VW workers told The Washington Post this month that they wished politicians would stay out of the matter and leave it up to employees.

Democratic politicians have voiced support for the UAW. Democratic state senators in Tennessee on Tuesday criticized the Republican governors on social media. “Autoworkers in the South are ready to make history this week. #StandUp, Chattanooga!” Sen. London Lamar posted.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, whose state faces a UAW organizing effort at a Toyota factory in Georgetown, said on social media last week that unions have raised workers’ standard of living and that he was “proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder” with the UAW.

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