Volkswagen said Tuesday it will appeal the decision to hold a union election planned this week at the Chattanooga plant, continuing its clash with the United Auto Workers.
While the vote by 164 maintenance workers will still be held Thursday and Friday at the plant, a National Labor Relations Board spokeswoman said the results could be impounded pending a review of the VW appeal by the panel.
"Ballots are often impounded pending board review in these types of situations," said Jessica Kahanek of the NLRB. "I can't say for sure that this case will be handled that way yet, but that is often how things proceed."
› Oct. 23: UAW Local 42 seeks election for 164 VW plant maintenance workers› Nov. 3 and 4: National Labor Relations Board hearing officer hears VW’s objections to election› Nov. 18: NLRB regional director rules in favor of UAW; orders election on Dec. 3 and 4› Dec. 1: VW decides to appeal ruling to the full NLRB; election still scheduled
* VW sales down nearly 25 percent; Chattanooga-made Passat down 60 percent
Volkswagen said it is appealing an earlier NLRB regional director's decision that the plant's maintenance workers are an appropriate group for purposes of the election.
VW spokesman Scott Wilson said the decision to appeal is based on Volkswagen Chattanooga's "consistent position that the Chattanooga workforce is one integrated team and our one team concept is a critical component of our success.
"While we continue to respect our employees' right to decide on representation, we believe that any union election for the Chattanooga plant should provide all hourly team members - production and maintenance - with the opportunity to participate," he said.
The UAW fired back Tuesday, expressing disappointment at VW's appeal and claiming the automaker hasn't honored an earlier commitment to the union.
Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the international union's Transnational Department, said that in the spring of 2014, VW committed to recognize the UAW Local 42 as representative of its members in order for the union and the company to enter into collective bargaining.
"The company did not honor that commitment and, as a result, employees have grown increasingly impatient and have decided to exercise their rights under the law," he said.
VW and the UAW have been at odds over the election for the maintenance workers since October, when Local 42 petitioned the NLRB for a vote by the maintenance workers for the purposes of collective bargaining. Maintenance workers - also called skilled trades workers - keep up and repair the sophisticated equipment at the plant.
UAW officials said the timing of the skilled trades filing with the NLRB was unrelated to the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
Volkswagen, however, in November asked the NLRB to reject the election request, saying instead it favors the full unit vote. Last month, for much of two days, lawyers for the two sides sparred before an NLRB hearing officer in Chattanooga as attorneys for the UAW and VW questioned plant workers and pressed their cases.
But in mid-November, the NLRB's regional director in Atlanta ruled in favor of the UAW and set the election for Thursday and Friday.
Dan Gilmore, a Chattanooga labor attorney who teaches at UTC, said he's not surprised by VW's decision to appeal.
"They still prefer to have one election for the unit they proposed as appropriate," he said.
Gilmore said VW wants the works council set-up that it uses in nearly all of its plants worldwide. Works councils are panels of blue- and white-collar employees who discuss issues such as training, safety and worker schedules, and VW officials believe a union is needed to set up such a group.
But, Gilmore said VW also believes the smaller unionized group would fractionalize the workforce.
He said VW officials apparently think an appeal to the full NLRB is "a reasonable gamble."
At the same time, another union trying to organize workers at the plant has criticized the UAW for seeking the election for the smaller group of employees.
David Reed, president of the American Council of Employees, said the emissions scandal has created "a time of great stress and uncertainty for VW-Chattanooga employees and the Volkswagen organization as a whole.
"It is unfortunate, however, that the UAW would try to take advantage of the current situation by demanding an immediate election. This is an obvious attempt to use fear to further divide VW-Chattanooga employees," he said.
In February 2014, the UAW lost an election of the plant's blue-collar workers by a margin of 712 to 626.
Contact staff writer Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.