Labor group critical of UAW seeks recognition at VW's Chattanooga plant

Labor group critical of UAW seeks recognition at VW's Chattanooga plant

February 4th, 2015 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

FILE - In this July 31, 2012, file photo, an employee works on a Passat sedan at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. The United Auto Workers on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, qualified for the top tier of a new labor policy at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, giving the union its first formal role within a foreign-owned auto plant in the South. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

A labor group rivaling the United Auto Workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant has submitted the names of workers to the automaker with hopes to qualify for limited organizing rights.

The American Council of Employees has offered as members the names of at least 15 percent of plant workers. If approved by VW, the group could convene monthly with human resources officials, hold regular on-site ACE meetings and post announcements at the factory.

Late last year, the UAW went through the same procedure, and auditors determined that UAW had gathered signatures from at least 45 percent of the plant's blue-collar workers. That percentage allowed the union to have regular meetings with Volkswagen officials.

Dan Gilmore

Dan Gilmore

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

If ACE reaches at least the 15 percent level of worker support, that means two different labor groups will be meeting with VW officials on behalf of their members at one plant, said Chattanooga labor attorney Dan Gilmore.

"This is very unusual in my experience," said Gilmore, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga adjunct business professor who has been following the ongoing labor situation at the factory.

VW plant spokesman Scott Wilson confirmed that ACE has turned in the names of members and that a local accounting firm is checking the signatures. He didn't know how long it will take to have the names certified or not approved.

Maury Nicely, a Chattanooga attorney representing ACE, wouldn't confirm or deny that the names were submitted and declined further comment.

But late last month, Nicely said ACE officials "feel pretty good about the support" the labor group has among plant employees.

He said ACE officials believe there's room enough at the factory for two labor groups.

"It's clear employees don't want exclusive representation by the UAW," Nicely said.

ACE officials have said it's not a union and it's locally based, criticizing the UAW and its Detroit roots.

Maury Nicely

Maury Nicely

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

The UAW wouldn't comment on Tuesday.

Mike Cantrell, president of UAW Local 42 in Chattanooga, said last week that meetings have begun between the union membership and plant officials.

After the UAW was certified under the policy, Cantrell had said, his primary purpose was to gain recognition by VW.

"That's the goal so we can start bargaining," said Cantrell, who last month traveled to Germany to meet with the VW Global Group Works Council's executive committee.

The UAW, in reaching the top tier of support, has been able to carry out those rights for which ACE is aiming, and more. For example, the UAW can meet biweekly with human resources officials and monthly with the plant's executive committee.

Still, Gilmore said the VW policy doesn't certify any party for collective bargaining purposes under the National Labor Relations Act.

"That's what both the UAW and ACE ultimately want to achieve," he said.

Gilmore said if either ACE or the UAW ever ultimately are formally recognized by VW or wins a secret ballot election, only then will one earn National Labor Relations Board certification as the exclusive representative of all employees in the bargaining unit.

Meanwhile, each group appears willing to settle for the opportunity to meet with VW officials on behalf of its members, he said.

VW officials have said they want to set up a works council labor board at the plant, which VW has in nearly all its major factories worldwide. A works council, which can be made up of blue- and white-collar employees, oversees working conditions in a plant such as training and safety. It does not deal with matters such as pay and benefits.

The UAW lost an organizing election at the plant nearly a year ago by a vote of 712 to 626. However, it claimed interference by Republican politicians.

When VW announced the new labor policy, both the UAW and ACE officials declared their support. But ACE officials later said that VW officials began favoring the UAW in its implementation.

Business Editor Dave Flessner contributed to this story.

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


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