published Saturday, May 17th, 2014

UAW, VW deny election agreement was illegal


Signs from the UAW’s unsuccessful campaign in Chattanooga.
Signs from the UAW’s unsuccessful campaign in Chattanooga.
Photo by Erin O. Smith.

The United Auto Workers is seeking dismissal of a suit that claimed Volkswagen gave the union access to names and facilities at the Chattanooga plant in exchange for the UAW holding down costs if it won the organizing vote at the factory.

The UAW and Volkswagen, which were both sued in federal court by three VW employees, on Friday denied in court papers that an election agreement signed by the union and the automaker before the February vote was illegal.

UAW attorneys said the agreement didn't violate federal labor law because "courts and the National Labor Relations Board have long upheld and enforced labor-management agreements including the very type of agreement terms ... challenged here."

The UAW said the law cited by the employees, represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and Chattanooga attorney Bill Horton, targets corruption and bribery among union officials and not such agreements.

The union also said when Congress enacted the provision of the law, it provided the federal government with the authority for criminal prosecution and to seek injunctive relief and didn't give private litigants a right to sue.

The election agreement had set specific terms for the vote, such as defining the bargaining unit of employees and that there would not be any disruption to production.

Also, it said that VW would provide the UAW access to non-work premises, including a specific room where the union could meet with interested workers.

However, the employees in the suit filed in March said the company tried to help the union achieve representation at the plant and to limit what the UAW could bargain over in any subsequent contract talks.

The suit said the UAW agreed "to make concessions" to VW under a works council labor board that the automaker wanted to set up if employees approved the union.

The UAW lost the vote by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin. It later filed an appeal for a revote, but it pulled its objections in April.

Patrick Semmens, vice president of the Foundation, said any decision to unionize should be driven by rank-and-file employees on the shop floor and not because of "a backroom deal between top union bosses and company officials."

"Fortunately, we think that federal law makes it clear that this type of valuable organizing assistance is illegal," he said.

Semmens said the issue remains key because it appears UAW officials "are not giving up on using this tactic to unionize VW workers in the future."

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams, likely the union's next president, said the night of the vote that he would keep up the fight to unionize the factory.

VW said in court papers that the UAW or any other union is precluded for at least one year from seeking a new representation election.

Also, the company's attorneys said, VW no longer has any obligations under the election agreement because of the NLRB's certification of the results.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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