DETROIT -- Bob King admits he was overly optimistic early in his four-year term as UAW president when he predicted the union would be able to organize at least one of the foreign-owned auto plants in the southern United States quickly.
But King said he believes the UAW will begin representing Volkswagen Group of America workers in Tennessee before union rules force him to retire in five months.
The UAW is waiting for VW to respond to its request to recognize the union without a vote by the plant's workers. It has submitted cards signed by what King says are more than enough workers to prove that the employees want UAW representation.
Anti-union activists are fighting the effort and have circulated petitions that they say should invalidate some of the cards.
"I think and hope it will be soon," King said in an interview last week after his speech at the Automotive News World Congress. "We've got a very strong majority there. I'm confident once we agree on the process that the workers will choose to have UAW representation."
Labor experts say the dispute over whether enough workers support union representation means VW is unlikely to let the UAW inside the plant without an election. VW executives have said they will respect workers' wishes.
"I will accept -- support or accept -- what the workers in Chattanooga eventually, at one point of time, will decide to do," Michael Horn, the new CEO of Volkswagen AG's U.S. unit, told reporters at the Detroit auto show last week. "There's a big back and forth."
In his World Congress speech, King said that workers at the Asian and European automakers' U.S. plants are not opposed to a union, but that past organizing efforts failed because their employers intimidated supporters of unionization and threatened their jobs.
He said the success of the current effort is vital to the future of not only the union but also of the middle class that the UAW helped shape in the 20th century.
"Auto jobs should not consist of low-wage, temporary labor working under unsafe conditions," he said. "But without unions, that is exactly the direction they are going."
King specifically called out Nissan North America as actively opposing unionization, and during a press conference outside the auto show a group trying to organize Nissan's plant in Mississippi criticized the company for using large numbers of temporary workers.
Justin Saia, a Nissan spokesman, said that the company respects workers' right to decide whether a union represents them, and that all of Nissan's U.S. jobs "are designed to be long-term, stable jobs with competitive pay and benefits."
Gabe Nelson contributed to this report.