Politicians have stepped into the fray, because VW not only has pledged to remain neutral in the debate, it has gone a step further, signaling unionization might be a good fit with its organization worldwide.

Among VW plants, only Chattanooga and facilities in China remain non-union and without a works council to represent employees on pay, working hours and benefits and provide a say in the company’s overall direction, says Kristin Dziczek, director-Industry & Labor Group for the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research. A works council can’t be established legally in the U.S. unless there is union representation.

“The Volkswagen Group is proud of its record of cooperation and co-determination between employees, management and the communities in which we live and work,” says Volkswagen Chattanooga CEO Frank Fischer. “Our works councils are key to our success and productivity. It is a business model that helped to make Volkswagen the second-largest car company in the world.

“Our plant in Chattanooga has the opportunity to create a uniquely American works council, in which the company would be able to work cooperatively with our employees and, ultimately, their union representatives.”

Sebastian Patta, vice president-Human Resources at the plant, says: “Democracy is an American ideal, and being open with our employees is a central pillar of our works councils. Outside political groups won’t divert us from the work at hand: innovating, creating jobs, growing and producing great automobiles.”

That sentiment, plus reports the UAW has secured signed cards from half the workforce, has UC Berkeley’s Shaiken believing the union may succeed in breaking through at Chattanooga.

“One never knows until the votes are counted, but the signs are good for this being an historic moment for VW and the UAW,” he tells WardsAuto. “This is being closely watched, and if the workers vote yes, we could see other automakers in the South or other workers moving in this direction.”

Much has been made of the importance of the vote to the union and what it could mean for auto industry wages and work practices throughout the U.S., should the UAW succeed as Shaiken predicts.

But it appears unlikely there would be a near-term power swing sparking a union march on the South or that past industry labor practices, in part blamed for the near-collapse of the domestic auto industry in 2009, would rise again on the strength of the Chattanooga plant’s move under the UAW umbrella.

For its part, the Volkswagen operation is just the first play in a longer game designed to reverse the slide in UAW membership, which has declined 75% over the past three decades. Although it could happen, it’s unlikely a victorious union would make an immediate and contentious push for significantly higher wages in Chattanooga and risk its longer-term goal of organizing other foreign transplants in the U.S.

The UAW’s Chattanooga endgame is to demonstrate it can work in partnership with a German automaker, help protect employees from job-related injury and secure new investment that provides more job security – thereby increasing its appeal to workers at other Southern plants, particularly Daimler’s operation in Alabama and BMW’s facility in South Carolina.

A deal brokered in part by a new UAW-led works council to bring to Chattanooga the new CUV, unveiled at the 2013 North American International Auto Show as the CrossBlue Concept, would go a long way toward polishing the union’s image in the South, as would constant reminders from VW of its strong, mutually beneficial working relationship with the UAW.

It’s also important to note winning the Chattanooga vote would not mark the UAW’s first foothold in the region or with a foreign transplant. It already represents Mitsubishi workers in Illinois, Detroit Three plants in Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky and some supplier operations in the South, Dziczek points out.