Volkswagen Chattanooga

The United Autoworkers Union is struggling – and it is the first to admit it. With its membership dwindling after three decades of workforce cuts by Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, the union has pinned its future on organizing one of the transplants. Efforts to convince workers at Japanese-owned plants, like the Nissan factory in Smyrna, Tennessee, have fallen on deaf ears in the past, but there's now hope that the UAW might succeed at one of the newer German-owned plants.

According to Reuters, the union is targeting the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, and the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. The UAW's strategy reportedly involves seeking assistance from IG Metall, the powerful German labor union that helped the UAW organize a VW plant in Pennsylvania in the 1970s. Reuters says the German union has a vested interest in helping the UAW, in that it does not want non-unionized workers at the German-owned plants in the United States to be able to undercut it on labor costs. If IG Metall can pressure the German carmakers not to oppose the UAW, the American union would have an easier time getting workers to vote for it, or at least that's the thinking.

Yet even with IG Metall's help, the UAW faces a historic challenge in organizing in the South, where the word "union" is regarded about the same as it was during the Civil War. And time is running out, according to the report, which says the UAW has been dipping into its strike fund since 2006.