CHATTANOOGA -- Workers at Volkswagen AG's plant here voted to reject UAW representation, dealing a devastating loss to a union that saw the Tennessee factory as its best chance to gain a toehold at a foreign-owned assembly plant in the South.
Results of the vote -- 712 opposed to the UAW and 626 in favor -- were released late Friday by retired Tennessee Circuit Court Judge Sam Payne after three days of voting at the plant, where the company builds the Passat sedan.
Volkswagen said 89 percent of approximately 1,500 workers eligible to vote participated in the election.
"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 President Bob King said in a statement.
The National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the voting, must still certify the results.
Volkswagen did not resist the two-year organizing drive, which made it unusually easy for the UAW to win workers' support for a vote.
Still, the election attracted widespread national attention from third-party union supporters and opponents, and they spent the past few weeks trying to sway the outcome with billboards, radio spots and other messages.
Some elected officials in Tennessee opposed to the unionization drive also worried that a UAW win would undermine the state's ability to attract future private investment and jobs. In some cases, they threatened to withhold future incentives for VW if the union was successful.
UAW leaders said they appear to have lost some of their support this week when some Republican leaders in the state suggested a union victory might hurt chances for an expansion at the plant.
"We started to see some movement when the governor made his comments [indicating the union could hurt economic development]," Dennis Williams, secretary treasurer for the UAW, said after the vote. "Then Sen. (Bob) Corker who said he was not going to get involved came back [to Chattanooga] and had a press conference. We had a feeling that something was happening."