Opponents of the United Auto Workers are claiming that Volkswagen illegally helped the union in its recent organizing campaign in exchange for the union agreeing to make concessions to the auto maker.
Three employees at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant have filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Chattanooga, claiming VW and the union illegally colluded in a neutrality agreement to help the UAW get representation at the plant and to limit what the union could bargain over in any subsequent contract talks.
In a 12-page lawsuit, the workers opposed to the UAW claim VW improperly lent assistance to the UAW in its organizing effort, allowing the union to use VW facilities and make presentations to employees in favor of the union. In exchange, the UAW agreed "to make concessions" to VW under the works council, if workers approved the union.
The lawsuit filed by Chattanooga attorney Bill Horton and Springfield, Va., attorney William Messenger was funded by the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, which helps workers opposed to labor unions. The suit asked the court to direct VW from stopping any further efforts to recognize the UAW.
The UAW called the law suit "baseless" and typical of legal challenges against unions made by the National Right to Work Foundation.
"At the time it negotiated its Election Agreement with Volkswagen Group of America, the UAW had already established for the company that it was the majority representative of hourly Volkswagen employees, on the lawful basis of authorization cards signed by a majority of such employees," UAW President Bob King said. "Moreover, even if the UAW had not demonstrated this status, the UAW's Election Agreement with Volkswagen Group of America would still be lawful, just like many other neutrality agreements the UAW and other unions have negotiated with employers throughout the United States.
King said the National Right to Work Legal Foundation "has a history of frivolous lawsuits trying to stop workers from joining the UAW, including failed lawsuits at Dana and Freightliner."
Workers at the VW plant voted 712 to 626 last month against representation by the UAW, but the union is asking the National Labor Relations Board to order a new election because the UAW claims politicians taintd the voting by threatening to withhold state incentives for a plant expansion if the VW plant is unionized.
The legal challenge in federal court is separate from the administrative proceedings under way before the NLRB and suggests that the battle over UAW representation will continue to be fought on multiple levels.
"UAW union officials and Volkswagen management have colluded to deprive these workers of a fair vote from the start," said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation. "Enough is enough, which is why these workers are seeking to prevent further VW assistance to the UAW's organizing efforts."
The workers lawsuit against VW and the UAW relies on the precedent upheld by a federal appeals court that a Florida casino company's assistance to union officials during a card check unionization campaign could constitute "thing[s] of value" under the Labor Management Relations Act. Under the law, employers are prohibited from handing over "any money or other thing of value" to union officials, a provision that is supposed to prevent them from selling out workers' rights in exchange for corporate concessions.