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VW workers to vote on UAW representation at Tennessee plant

UAW President Bob King: "Volkswagen is known globally for its system of cooperation with unions and works councils."

UPDATED: 2/3/14 1:31 pm ET -- adds vote dates, statements

The UAW and Volkswagen Group of America said hourly workers at the VW assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., will hold an election Feb. 12-14 to determine if the union could represent workers there.

The National Labor Relations Board set the election after Volkswagen Group of America and the UAW reached an agreement, the union and the automaker said today in separate press releases.

"Volkswagen is known globally for its system of cooperation with unions and works councils," UAW President Bob King said in a statement. "The UAW seeks to partner with VWGOA and a works council to set a new standard in the U.S. for innovative labor-management relations that benefits the company, the entire workforce, shareholders and the community.

"The historic success of the works council model is in line with the UAW's successful partnerships with the domestic automakers and its vision of the 21st century union."

VW, in its statement, emphasized its neutrality -- and that the vote is by secret ballot.

"Volkswagen Group of America and the UAW have agreed to this common path for the election," Frank Fischer, CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga, said in the statement. "That means employees can decide on representation in a secret ballot election, independently conducted by the NLRB. Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality," Fischer said.

In addition to Volkswagen, the UAW has ongoing organizing drives to attempt to represent workers at Nissan plants in Mississippi and Tennessee and at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama.

"A vote at Volkswagen, whatever the outcome, will send reverberations throughout the Southern auto industry," said Dennis Cuneo, a managing partner of pro-management law firm Fisher & Phillips. Cuneo made his comments to Reuters by email.

UAW membership has fallen steadily since reaching a peak of nearly 1.5 million in 1979 to almost 400,000 in 2012, attributable to automation at assembly plants and a declining share of the U.S. auto market for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler Group.

Outside of union membership at a Mitsubishi Motors Corp plant in the Midwest, nearly all UAW members at automakers are from GM, Ford and Chrysler.

In Washington three years ago, King said that the union has no long-term viability without successful organizing of foreign-owned auto plants, most of which are in the South, where anti-union sentiment runs high.

King and the UAW have been attempting to organize the VW plant for more than two years, and believe they have support of a majority of the 1,550 blue-collar workers at Chattanooga.

Mark Mix, president of the National Right To Work Foundation, said that the UAW failed in its attempt to add a union without a vote by having Volkswagen certify it.

"A secret-ballot election is what Foundation-assisted workers were asking for all along," said Mix in an e-mail to Reuters.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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