Around Cornell

News directly from Cornell's colleges and centers

Cornell Keynotes podcast: The American South braces for a huge unionization push

Will auto industry unionization in Tennessee and Alabama galvanize a new labor movement in the South? 

In a new episode of the Cornell Keynotes podcast from eCornell, Andrew Wolf, a professor of global labor and work at Cornell’s ILR School, joins host Chris Wofford to discuss the opportunities and challenges ahead for both auto manufacturing companies and labor organizers.

Unionization is shaking up the auto industry, delivering meaningful gains toward fair pay and other benefits for workers in the U.S. The efforts are particularly significant in the South where a legacy of racist labor laws continues to propagate disparity within the workforce.

According to Wolf, the recent United Auto Workers (UAW) victory at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on April 19 marks a triumph in the effort to overcome the "Southern Discount" and lasting effects of Jim Crow laws. As attention turns to the forthcoming UAW vote at Mercedes plants in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, anticipation swirls regarding the potential implications for labor dynamics in the region.

"I think the vote [in Tuscaloosa] is going to be much harder. The union still might win. I imagine the percentage will be lower. And the reason I'm saying that is the company has far more aggressively fought the union. And then Volkswagen, because of the union workers at Volkswagen in Germany, the company was pretty close to neutral. And so that employer opposition has a huge impact on decreasing union turnout.

Although similarly, I think in both states, the political establishment, the governors and whatnot were against the vote. On the flip side, historically, Alabama has the highest unionization rate in the South, partly because in Mobile, that was where the aircraft carriers were created, so there was a pocket unionization there, there was historic unionization in the logging and mining industries, so it actually has more of a labor history, and it's actually gone up in the last few years in Alabama."

—Andrew Wolf


Listen to Episode 32: "The American South Braces for a Huge Unionization Push."


Visit Simplecast to read more about this episode, and join Cornell’s most celebrated scholars and industry experts for candid conversations on trending topics and current events by subscribing to the Cornell Keynotes podcast

Discover more about labor laws in eCornell’s labor relations certificate program, and learn the latest best practices for labor-related legal issues in the workplace in other law and human resources programs.

Follow eCornell on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok and X to get weekly Cornell Keynotes podcast updates.

Media Contact

Media Relations Office