Of all the cars built at Volkswagen's Chattanooga Assembly Plant in Tennessee, it's not hard to argue that the Volkswagen ID.4 is the one most important to the automaker's future. It's VW's first modern all-electric model—a symbol of what's to come as it eventually moves away from gasoline, aimed squarely at the ultra-important U.S. market. And now, it will soon be a union-made EV as well. 

Workers at VW's Tennessee plant "overwhelmingly" voted to join the United Auto Workers union this week, as Automotive News put it, with the "yes" camp scoring 73% of the vote. Volkswagen officials said 2,628 workers were in favor, with 985 against. 

Get Fully Charged

The UAW and the electric future

Starting with strikes on Detroit's Big Three last year, the UAW has sought to reverse decades of losses to its membership. The push comes at a time when many U.S. auto workers fear for their jobs, if a move to electric vehicles requires less manufacturing labor since the cars have so many fewer parts.

“We saw the big contract that UAW workers won at the Big Three and that got everybody talking,” Zachary Costello, a trainer in VW’s proficiency room, said in a statement released on the UAW's website. “You see the pay, the benefits, the rights UAW members have on the job, and you see how that would change your life. That’s why we voted overwhelmingly for the union. Once people see the difference a union makes, there’s no way to stop them.”    

In a short statement, Volkswagen officials said: "The vote was administered through a democratic, secret ballot vote overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.  We will await certification of the results by the NLRB. Volkswagen thanks its Chattanooga workers for voting in this election."

After the votes are certified, VW must begin negotiations with the workers for a contract at the plant.  

Gallery: 2024 Volkswagen ID.4 First Drive Gallery

As Costello noted, the VW workers' union vote comes on the heels of historic strikes against the Detroit Big Three last year, which resulted in record wage and benefit gains after years of decline following the Great Recession and bailouts. They were the product of a newly energized and rather militant UAW—a union infamous for corruption scandals, close ties to automakers and ineffectiveness—that is dead-set on reversing decades of membership losses. And in recent weeks alone, the union drive at VW Chattanooga had faced staunch opposition from Republican governors in the South, all of whom oppose unionization at the many car plants in their states. 

The union vote was a groundbreaking one on multiple fronts.

It represents the first time a so-called "foreign" plant in the U.S. south voted to join the UAW, after years of similar campaigns failing. Two similar attempts to unionize at Chattanooga faltered in recent years. (Volkswagen's Westmoreland, Pennsylvania plant was a union shop, but it closed in 1988.) It also means that Volkswagen will be a union automaker much like it is in its home country of Germany. And, obviously, it is a major win for the UAW as it gains momentum to try and unionize at Mercedes-Benz soon and other automakers down the line, including possibly Tesla.

But even more so, the UAW vote in Tennessee could be seen as big news for electric vehicles, and American labor's role in making them. 

Though UAW President Shawn Fain has been adamant that the union is not against EVs, many workers fear that the moves to more EV production—which generally requires less labor and fewer parts than combustion car production—will mean fewer U.S. manufacturing jobs. Indeed, that talking point has been used heavily by politicians who oppose regulations driving more EV adoption, including former President Donald Trump. And Volkswagen too hasn't shied away from the importance of its Chattanooga plant to the future of cars, with a battery engineering plant onsite and efforts to retrain its workforce to make EVs. Furthermore, the UAW has sought to unionize EV battery plants in the U.S. as well, which generally pay much less for hourly labor than union car plants do. 

All of this has begged the question: will the electric future of cars in America be built by union labor, or not? And after Friday night's results, the answer is that it just might be.

Contact the author: patrick.george@insideevs.com

Got a tip for us? Email: tips@insideevs.com