The U.S. Department of Justice says in a legal brief that neither Volkswagen nor the United Auto Workers violated federal law in their election agreement prior to the February vote at the automaker's Chattanooga plant.
The DOJ, joined by attorneys for the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board, said labor law doesn't prohibit terms of the election agreement. They also said that the three VW employees who filed the federal suit should have brought unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB.
The employees allege in the suit that VW 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 lost by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin.
Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, termed it "extremely unusual" for the Obama Administration to file a legal brief at the district court level.
The Foundation, which is representing the workers, said that "the very union bosses who complained about outside interference after they lost the unionization election are now relying on outside interference from their Washington, D.C., allies to justify UAW bosses' ability to negotiate a backroom deal for assistance in organizing workers who already rejected them once in a secret ballot election."
The DOJ brief said the labor law in which the lawyers for the VW workers are basing the suit doesn't create a private right of action to enforce prohibitions.
"The statute establishes criminal prohibitions, to be enforced by the government," the brief said.
The justice department filing also said that the "ground rules" to which VW and the UAW agreed were "routine."
However, the employees in the suit filed in March said VW 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.
Semmens said any decision to unionize should be driven by rank-and-file employees on the shop floor and not because of a 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.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.