UAW, groups battle over Chattanooga's Volkswagen

UAW, groups battle over Chattanooga's Volkswagen

September 14th, 2013 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Workers at the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga may soon vote on whether to become members of the UAW.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

United Auto Workers President Bob King says he'd like Volkswagen to voluntarily recognize the union as the best choice to represent workers at VW's Chattanooga plant and bypass "a divisive vote."

But, the National Right to Work Legal Foundation and an anti-UAW website representing some workers are calling for a secret ballot election for employees.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Friday in Knoxville that VW's response to the UAW's organizing effort in Chattanooga "is totally different" from what company leaders said they would do when they were negotiating to come to Chattanooga five years ago.

All the comments come after the UAW said earlier this week that it has a majority of signed cards from workers at the factory authorizing the UAW to represent them.

King told Reuters that having the automaker recognize the union would eliminate the need for a more formal and divisive vote.

He said that would allow the union and VW to represent the workers using an "innovative model" that would be a milestone in the union's long-running effort to organize foreign-owned auto plants.

King referred to outside nonunion groups that would likely pit workers against each other, saying "I don't think that's in Volkswagen's best interests. I don't think that's in the best interests of Tennessee.

"If they want to ... recognize us based on majority, I think that is the quickest, most effective way," he added, noting that the UAW has taken a similar approach with hundreds of other companies in the United States.

King declined to give a timeline on how long the process will take.

King said the union has received cards signed by a majority of the plant's 2,500 workers saying they want UAW representation. He declined to give the exact percentage, saying the number was still rising.

However, Mark Mix, the president of the foundation said the UAW is pressuring VW, and that card check is "an unreliable and abuse-prone process."

According to the foundation, it has received a number of calls from workers at the plant who were told by UAW union organizers that a signature on the card was to call for a secret ballot unionization election.

The foundation also frowned on an election process in which VW and the UAW would bring in an arbitrator to run the election that shifts it out of a National Labor Relations Board vote process.

Corker, who worked with former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2008 to woo VW to build its $1 billion auto assembly plant in Chattanooga, said VW leaders at the time said they were not planning to have UAW representation for plant workers.

"They told us on the front end that they had zero interest in having the UAW be a part of their plant," Corker told the Times Free Press. "What was important to me is that I knew the damage that the UAW would have on our community.

Corker insisted that he is not anti-union, noting that he was once a union member as a young construction worker and he won the endorsement of Chattanooga building unions when he ran for mayor.

Also Friday, an anti-union website, No2UAW, posted 11 reasons why it wants a secret ballot, including saying workers were told "No works Council, No VW expansion."

The plant is competing with VW's Mexico facility to build a potential new sport utility vehicle.