Drama high in union vote at Chattanooga VW plant

Drama high in union vote at Chattanooga VW plant

February 6th, 2014 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

POLL: Do you oppose a union at the Volkswagen plant?

United Auto Workers, UAW, logo

United Auto Workers, UAW, logo

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Most of the 1,500 or so Volkswagen employees who'll vote next week on whether to endorse the United Auto Workers at the Chattanooga plant are facing a new experience and have never before taken part in such a secret-ballot election, observers say.

And the drama will really start when the counting begins, said Chattanooga labor attorney Dan Gilmore.

"Everybody representing different sides are keeping track with the 'yes' and the 'nos,"' said Gilmore, founder of Squire Strategies and an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

New details released Wednesday of the Feb. 12-14 election by the National Labor Relations Board show the ballot will be a simple one: "Do you wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)?"

Gilmore said the question will be on paper ballots, and that a result of 50 percent plus one will decide a winner, which is expected to be announced within a few hours after voting is scheduled to end at 8:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 14.

But, he said, while results may be released publicly, he won't be surprised to see objections filed because of the contentiousness of the election.

"I wouldn't be surprised by a challenge" by an outside group, Gilmore said. He said the results aren't final until they are certified by the NLRB.

Gary Casteel, a UAW regional director, said NLRB agents will be on hand at the polling station at the plant to "check off" those workers who cast a ballot as in a civic election.

But, he said, there's no campaigning during the voting, and company supervisors or union people can't be hovering around.

"By then, everyone has had ample time" to educate themselves, Casteel said.

While VW has about 2,700 employees at the plant, Casteel said the recognition effort will be decided by a little more than 1,500 workers.

According to the stipulated election agreement, the voting group includes all regular full-time and regular part-time production and maintenance employees, including "team members, skilled team members and team leaders."

Excluded from voting will be all "specialists, technicians, temporary and causal employees, plant clericals, office clericals, professional employees and managerial employees, engineers, purchasing and inventory employees, all secretarial, office clerical, and all managers, supervisors, and guards as defined in the National Labor Relations Act," the agreement said.

Any people employed by contractors, employee leasing companies, temporary agencies, and others supplying labor are excluded from the bargaining unit.

The stipulated agreement also said the UAW is to receive a list of employees eligible to vote and their addresses, as entitled by law. Anti-union workers and their supporters have complained that they aren't getting the same information.

Maury Nicely, an attorney for the anti-UAW group Southern Momentum, said he has heard there will be two polling stations at the plant.

Nicely said his group plans to seek the opportunity for employees to have observers at the polling sites.

He said Wednesday that his group still believes the anti-union side isn't being given fair treatment by the company to get its message out to employees.

It said, for example, that employees weren't allowed to ask questions of UAW representatives during group meetings Tuesday.

Mike Burton, a VW employee who doesn't support the union, said UAW organizers were given the floor to attempt to persuade team members of why they should vote for the UAW. Although the meetings weren't mandatory, those workers who stayed were told they could not ask questions, said Burton.

"When management requires team members to attend a meeting, then invites team members to stay and listen to union officials who won't answer any public questions--let alone allow questions to be asked--something stinks," Burton said in a statement.

The group said the UAW has been granted the ability to campaign on company property, such as inside break rooms and lunch areas, and will be given an office in the plant as well as bulletin board space to post campaign literature.

Conversely, employees opposed to unionization have been denied the same opportunities to communicate their viewpoints to fellow workers, it said.

The UAW has said the employee meetings were informational, and that workers were told that it's their choice to vote for or against the union. It termed the meetings "transparent and above board."

Casteel said the company has made it clear that it's the UAW that's on the ballot.

"There's a debate about why give us access," he said. "The UAW is the only one up for election."

VW has said that the company is "committed to neutrality" and that employees "have the right to decide, in a secret ballot election, on a matter that concerns their own interests."

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

Workers at the Volkswagen plant here will decide whether to form a union.

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.