VW to oppose unionization of maintenance workers, wants full vote

Volkswagen workers and Passats are seen at the Chattanooga manufacturing plant in this file photo.
Volkswagen workers and Passats are seen at the Chattanooga manufacturing plant in this file photo.

Volkswagen will ask in a hearing today that the National Labor Relations Board reject a request by the United Auto Workers for a vote for a group of 164 maintenance workers at its Chattanooga plant.

The company, just ahead of the NLRB hearing in Chattanooga today on the UAW election petition, said in a statement instead that it favors a full vote by all maintenance and production employees at the plant.

photo UAW logo tile

"While the company remains neutral in regards to our employees' right to representation and an election, we believe that the maintenance-only unit requested in the petition is not consistent with our one team approach," the company's statement said.

VW also said the UAW's request is inconsistent with the company's production system and organization design and long-established NLRB law."

"Given these points, we have asked the [NLRB] to decline the union's petitioned maintenance-only unit in favor of a unit and election that would include all maintenance and production employees," the statement said.

The hearing is slated for the federal building at 10 a.m., according to the NLRB.

The union lost an election at the plant in February 2014 by a margin of 712 to 626 of blue-collar employees at the factory.

Last month, the UAW asked the NLRB to approve an election so it could represent the maintenance, or skilled trades, employees for collective bargaining purposes.

Former NLRB member Dr. John Raudabaugh said Monday that while maintenance employees historically have been a unit that's recognized as appropriate all by itself, the skilled workers, in addition to those in production, are typically part of a unit as well.

Raudabaugh, who served on the panel from 1990 to 1993 after he was nominated by former President George H. W. Bush, said he's not surprised by the UAW's petition for the new election at the VW plant for just maintenance workers.

The law professor at Ave Maria School of Law said he thinks the UAW has a clear majority of the maintenance workers, who fix and keep up the sophisticated equipment at the VW plant. Raudabaugh said a win at the plant would put the last election behind the union and gives it a presence at the plant.

The head of VW's Chattanooga plant said earlier in a letter to employees that the UAW's timing for a new election at the factory is "unfortunate" though the company will remain "neutral."

The letter from VW plant CEO Christian Koch and Executive Vice President of Human Resources Sebastian Patta cited the "challenges we are facing as a plant, Brand, and Group." VW was rocked about a month ago by the emissions-rigging scandal that has forced Volkswagen to suspend deliveries of any diesel engine Passats made in Chattanooga.

"Nevertheless, we will respect our employees' right to petition and vote and will remain neutral throughout this process," the letter said.

Mike Cantrell, UAW Local 42's president, said there are multiple paths to reach collective bargaining at the plant.

"We have been considering this option for some time. All options have been, and will remain, on the table," he said.

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

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