The battle over union representation at Volkswagen of America will shift this month from plant workers in Chattanooga to a hearing officer for the National Labor Relations Board.
Supporters and opponents of the United Auto Workers union will soon be allowed to argue before the NLRB whether another election should be conducted for workers to decide on representation by the UAW. Despite objections from both VW and the UAW, the labor board agreed this week to allow opponents to the union to argue against UAW's petition for the new election.
By a narrow 712-626 margin last month, VW workers voted against joining the UAW at VW's only U.S. assembly plant. The UAW mounted a two-year campaign to organize the Volkswagen facility, where more than 2,000 employees make more than 100,000 Passat cars every year.
The UAW claims a new vote is needed because Tennessee state legislators and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., interfered in Feb. 12 to Feb. 14 balloting by threatening to withhold state incentives if the plant was unionized and by suggesting that a plant expansion was more likely if workers rejected the union. UAW President Bob King called the politicians' comments "outrageous" and said they interfered with the otherwise neutral playing field for the workers to decide on the union.
Volkswagen said the union vote had nothing to do with whether it will expand its plant in Chattanooga and the auto maker issued a statement last week against the union opponents being heard at the hearing on a new election.
VW attorney Steven Swirsky said the company "does not believe there is any basis for the motions to intervene to be granted."
But the NLRB agreed Monday to allow the union critics and their backers -- the National Right to Work Foundation and Southern Momentum -- to make their arguments at an upcoming hearing on whether to grant a new unionization vote. No hearing date is set yet for the NLRB hearing officer to review the evidence, however.
Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said he is "very pleased that, despite attempts by Volkswagen and UAW officials to keep workers out of this process, the acting Regional Director has ruled that the workers are entitled to defend their vote" against the UAW.
"The decision over whether or not to unionize is supposed to lie with the workers, which makes the attempt by VW and the UAW to shut them out of this process all the more shameful," he said.
Maury Nicely, an attorney representing other VW workers for Southern Momentum, also welcomed the NLRB decision to grant standing to the union opponents.
"We'll be able to present evidence, cross examine witnesses and make our arguments and briefs as allowed by the NLRB and we obviously think this is a good decision," Nicely said.
Michele Martin, communications director for the United Auto Workers, said the union had no comment on the NLRB decision. She said the UAW presented additional evidence last week in support of its claim that a new election should be conducted, but she declined to release the additional filings to the labor board.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.