VW vote in Tennessee a blow to UAW. Source: Volkswagen

VW vote in Tennessee a blow to UAW. Source: Volkswagen

Well, who saw that one coming?

Not me certainly - I thought the UAW would sweep all before it in its aim to secure representation for the 1,500 or staff at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant in Tennessee.

In the end the margin of defeat was fairly narrow by 712 votes to 626, but the loss will be felt with particular pain in Michigan, where UAW president, Bob King, in one of the last great campaigns of his illustrious time at the helm before retirement, had invested considerable time.

Politicians have been keen to become involved in the impassioned debate too, with the Republican Senator Bob Corker, invoking some pretty extraordinary claims VW would announce the manufacture of a new, mid-size SUV if workers voted 'no.'

Volkswagen Chattanooga CEO, Frank Fischer, swiftly moved to pour cold water on that inflammatory comment, instigating there was "no connection" between the vote and where it built any new models.

The UAW is clearly as taken aback as anyone else regarding the result and in a bitter mood, is now bringing up "interference" and "threats" supposedly at work, although it stops short of dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's.

In a fiery riposte following its rejection at Chattanooga, it thundered against the "firestorm of interference and threats from special interest groups."

Strong words indeed, but which surely need more meat on their bones to carry any substantial weight. It's all very well muttering darkly, but if the UAW has something there, surely they need to come out and make it plain.

Otherwise it looks very much like sour grapes. The vote was supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a democratic process, but the UAW is looking very much at the moment like sore losers.

They're surly hurting quite badly at the moment and maybe King saw the vote as a valedictory endorsement of his tenure, a final parting gift to his famous labour body and also perhaps, a much-needed shot in the arm for American unions, who are viewed by some it seems, with inherent scepticism.

Volkswagen equally seems a little bemused by the outcome and despite rejection of the UAW, appears willing to try and establish some sort of Works Council, perhaps along the lines of its highly successful model back in Germany.

It remains to be seen whether some of the politicians making a lot of noise in Tennessee about unionisation, will see much of a difference between UAW representation and a Works Council-led initiative, but the latter with its conciliatory approach and board level membership, certainly does seem to work everywhere else.

It's not as if Volkswagen is suffering from its encouragement of Works Councils. As one of the behemoths of the car world, it strides the global stage with a swagger backed up by hugely impressive results.

"They [employees] have spoken, and Volkswagen will respect the decision of the majority," says Volkswagen Chattanooga CEO and chairman, Frank Fischer.

"Our employees have not made a decision they are against a Works Council. Throughout this process, we found great enthusiasm for the idea of an American-style works council both inside and outside our plant."

I'm not sure what an "American-style" Works Council looks like, but that phrasing may be designed to appease the more hardline politicians, particularly as Fischer goes on to say: "Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a Works Council in accordance with the requirements of US labour law to meet VW America's production needs and serve our employees' interests."

There seems to be some divergence of opinion from the UAW itself however, which noted the 'no' vote rejected union representation to establish a Works Council - a different take from VW's view.

The regret in a statement from King is obvious as he says: "While we certainly would have liked a victory for workers here, we deeply respect the Volkswagen global group Works Council, Volkswagen management and IG Metall for doing their best to create a free and open atmosphere for workers to exercise their basic human right to form a union." 

UAW Region 8 director, Gary Casteel, really stuck the boot in however, citing "politically motivated third parties," who had "threatened the economic future of this facility."

Current UAW secretary-treasurer, Dennis Williams, widely tipped to be King's successor when he steps down this summer, also waded in, highlighting what he termed the "tremendous pressure from outside."

There's a lot of rhetoric flying about from the UAW. It's understandable to a certain extent - it's smarting and letting the world know its feelings very clearly.

And there's a further twist to the tale. As well as Chattanooga, the UAW has also invested a massive amount of time in its campaign to secure unionisation at Nissan's Canton plant in Mississippi.

The 'no' vote in Tennessee will go down like a lead balloon with those campaigning in in the southern State.

But if they don't want to come across as bad losers, they surely need to outline some more details of their views on Tennessee or risk coming across as a Michigan-based organisation trying to impose their northern views on a southern State.

Senator Bob Corker (R), who as mayor of Chattanooga from 2001-2005 worked to develop the Enterprise South Industrial Park, currently housing Volkswagen's North America headquarters, said he was "thrilled" for the employees, but he must be as surprised as anyone.

Maybe it comes down to something as basic as a geographical divide. The US has long enjoyed pockets of liberalism in many of the northern States and California, but the south appears radically different.

Will the UAW give up on the south or will it perservere to attain what it so passionatly endorses? 

Plenty for the new union chief to mull over as he takes the reins.

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