Could the Union Victory at VW Set Off a Wave?

By voting to join the United Automobile Workers, Volkswagen workers in Tennessee have given the union something it has never had: a factory-wide foothold at a major foreign automaker in the South.

The result, in an election that ended on Friday, will enable the union to bargain for better wages and benefits. Now the question is what difference it will make beyond the Volkswagen plant.

Labor experts said success at VW might position the union to replicate its showing at other auto manufacturers throughout the South, the least unionized region of the country. Some argued that the win could help set off a rise in union membership at other companies that exceeds the uptick of the past few years, when unions won elections at Starbucks and Amazon locations.

“It’s a big vote, symbolically and substantively,” said Jake Rosenfeld, a sociologist who studies labor at Washington University in St. Louis.

The next test for the U.A.W. will come in a vote in mid-May at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama.

In addition, at least 30 percent of workers have signed cards authorizing the U.A.W. to represent them at a Hyundai plant in Alabama and a Toyota plant in Missouri, according to the union. That is the minimum needed to force an election, though the union has yet to petition for one in either location.

“People only take action when they believe there is an alternative to the status quo that has a plausible chance of winning,” said Barry Eidlin, a sociologist at McGill University in Montreal.

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