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Tennessee's GOP governor says Volkswagen plant workers made a mistake in union vote

GALLATIN, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Republican Gov.
FILE - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee attends the Tennessee Titans groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the team's new NFL football stadium, Feb. 29, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. On the eve of a vote on union representation at Volkswagen's Tennessee factory, Lee and some other southern governors are telling workers that voting for a union will put jobs in jeopardy. (AP Photo/George Walker IV, File)

GALLATIN, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee said Monday that he thinks workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga made a mistake by voting to unionize under the United Auto Workers in a landslide election but acknowledged the choice was ultimately up to them.

Ahead of the vote, Lee and five other Southern Republican governors spoke out publicly against the UAW's drive to organize workers at factories largely in the South, arguing that if autoworkers were to vote for union representation, it would jeopardize jobs.

Instead, the union wound up pulling 73% of the vote at a facility whose workers had narrowly rejected the union in 2019 and 2014. The Volkswagen plant vote was the first to follow a series of strikes last fall against Detroit’s automakers that resulted in lucrative new contracts. Workers at Mercedes factories near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, will vote on UAW representation in May.

Lee told reporters Monday that the Volkswagen vote was “a loss for workers." He noted that he has a “long history with skilled workers" — workers are not unionized at his family's business, Lee Company, which employs about 1,600 people in home, facilities and construction projects.

“I think it's unwise to put your future in somebody else's hands,” Lee said at an event in Gallatin. “But those workers made that decision based on the individual circumstances of that plant. I think it was a mistake, but that's their choice.”

The Volkswagen win was the union's first in a Southern assembly plant owned by a foreign automaker.

President Joe Biden condemned the push by Lee and other Southern Republican governors to urge auto workers to vote against the union. The Democrat praised the success of unions representing autoworkers, Hollywood actors and writers, health care workers and others in gaining better contracts.

“Let me be clear to the Republican governors that tried to undermine this vote: there is nothing to fear from American workers using their voice and their legal right to form a union if they so choose,” Biden said in a news release Friday.

Jonathan Mattise, The Associated Press