Four weeks after Volkswagen's hourly employees narrowly voted against representation by the United Auto Workers, supporters and opponents of the Detroit-based union are still battling over whether the UAW should be recognized at the VW plant in Chattanooga.
The UAW said Wednesday it will appeal a decision to allow business groups backing local Volkswagen workers to intervene in the union's bid for a new election at the VW plant in Chattanooga. The union is asking the full 5-member National Labor Relations Board to review a staff decision to include the National Right to Work Legal Foundation and Southern Momentum in the debate over the UAW's election appeal.
Both Volkswagen and the UAW had asked that such "outside" identities not be included in the arguments over whether a new election should be ordered because of union claims that last month's election was distorted by improper comments from local politicians.
"It is an outrage that the Atlanta Region of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), deviating from the board's own practice, is allowing groups with shadowy funding that are masquerading as legitimate worker representatives to participate in the process to determine whether the UAW election at Volkswagen was tainted by state and federal politicians' threats of retaliation against workers if they exercised their right to choose UAW representation," the union said in a statement released Wednesday. "Politicians subjected Volkswagen workers to a two-week barrage of anti-UAW propaganda, outright lies, distortions, and threats about the viability of their plant. It is an outrage that their allies, who refused to reveal their funding sources and who openly republished the illicit threats in the media and among the Volkswagen workforce, will now be allowed to participate in the NLRB hearing."
But opponents of the UAW called the appeal "laughable" since the UAW was the only party to make its case directly to employees in the VW plant following a 2-year organizing campaign. In the secret balloting from Feb. 12 to Feb. 14, workers voted 72 to 626 against representation by the UAW.
"The UAW has shown that they will continue to fight to any degree it can to keep the workers who oppose the union from having their voices heard," said Maury Nicely, the Chattanooga attorney for Southern Momentum which filed a motion last week on behalf of two opponents of the UAW.
Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, also filed a motion with the NLRB on behalf of five other VW workers.
"It's shameful that that UAW bosses are so committed to keeping workers out of the process to determine if they are unionized that they are now attacking workers for standing up for their rights with free legal assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation," Semmens said. "Apparently the UAW definition of 'fairness' is silencing any opposing views before the vote, and then denying workers who succeeded in opposing the UAW participation in the legal process after."
The UAW asked the NLRB last month to order a new election because the union claims the vote was tainted by comments from state legislators and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. The Republican lawmakers suggested that the state would grant more incentives to VW if the workers rejected the union and that VW would be more likely to expand with more suppliers if the UAW was rejected.
VW said the union vote was unrelated to its decision about expanding its Chattanooga plant, but Gov. Bill Haslam said recruiting suppliers to Tennessee would be harder if VW is represented by the UAW.
The latest appeal by the UAW is likely to push any hearing on UAW's bid for another election back until at least April and continue the uncertainty about union representation at the $1 billion assembly plant. Any decision at the hearing by the Atlanta regional director next month could also be appealed to the full NLRB board and even to a federal court.
While the union debate continues, Volkswagen is reportedly considering whether to build a new sports utility vehicle for North America in either Chattanooga, where Volkswagen now makes only the Passat, or in Puebla, Mexico, where VW makes a number of vehicles.
Southern Momentum raised more than $100,000 primarily from Chattanooga area businesses and individuals to mount a campaign against the UAW in Chattanooga, Nicely said. The National Right to Work Legal Foundation, which often represents individuals who object to labor unions, also was active in urging voters not to support the UAW.
An anti-tax group organized by conservative Grover Norquist known as the Center for Worker Freedom also bought billboards and radio advertisements on seven local stations in Chattanooga urging workers not to vote for the UAW. The conservative group said the UAW supports liberal politicians who want to boost the size of the federal government and one ad suggested that the UAW would elect politicians who would take away people's guns.
"We don't talk about what we spend or who are donors are, but I can tell you anything we spent is dwarfed by the millions of dollars the UAW spent to try to organize a car plant in the South," said Matt Patterson, executive director of the Center for Worker Freedom. "The fact that the UAW is now whining over this so-called "shadowy" money is a complete joke after they had a multi-million-dollar campaign with one-sided access to the workers at Volkswagen and they still lost."
The UAW claims that Southern Momentum worked in concert with Norquist's group, which UAW President Bob King says was supported by Texas conservative billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.
"With this secret business funding, this "grassroots" organization also hired one of the nation's largest anti-union firms, Projections, to create propaganda for their anti-union campaign," the UAW said. "Its money speaks louder than its words, but it does not speak for Volkswagen Chattanooga workers."
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340