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One of the most monumental labor votes of the past few decades is underway in Chattanooga.

By late tonight, about 1,550 Volkswagen employees will have cast their votes on whether to accept representation by the United Auto Workers labor union, which has nearly 400,000 active members.

Labor leaders say a "yes" vote is critical to the union's long-term prospects. If successful, this would be the first victory for organized labor inside a foreign automaker's U.S. operations.

But critics — some of whom have poured millions into anti-union efforts in recent weeks — say a "yes" vote will potentially harm the South's ability to build a thriving auto industry. Many Tennessee politicians — including Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker — have expressed grave concern about the UAW's organizing efforts. Some have even raised the prospects of withholding future incentives from Volkswagen as it considers expanding in the state.

The automaker, for its part, has remained neutral, saying only that it wants to create a German-style works council that includes input from management and employees. It's a structure used in its plants around the world. But in the U.S., workers must be represented by a union to create a council.

Whatever the outcome, it's clear that many will be waiting for the National Labor Relation Board's announcement of the vote tally sometime early next week.

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