UAW seeks new vote at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant

An employee at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga works on a Passat sedan.
photo Employees at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant work on a Passat sedan.

The United Auto Workers on Friday sought a new election at Chattanooga's Volkswagen assembly plant, but this time for a smaller unit of employees than in early 2014.

A filing with the National Labor Relations Board says that UAW Local 42 will seek an election on Nov. 5 and 6. The election will involve only the 164 full- and part-time maintenance, or skilled trades, employees at the plant.

Planned UAW vote

If approved by the National Labor Relations Board, VW’s 164 maintenance workers will vote Nov. 5 and 6 at the plant’s conference center to be represented by the UAW for collective bargaining purposes.

Mike Cantrell, president of Local 42, said a key objective for the union has been moving toward collective bargaining for the purpose of reaching a multi-year contract between VW and its Chattanooga employees.

"We support our colleagues in the skilled trades as they move toward formal recognition of their unit," he said in a statement.

Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW International union and director of the union's Transnational Department, said the international union will provide ongoing technical assistance to the local as it strives toward collective bargaining and a seat on the VW Global Group Works Council.

Casteel and Cantrell both said that the timing of the skilled trades filing with the NLRB is unrelated to the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

But, the UAW's rival at the plant, the American Council of Employees, said the UAW is trying to exploit the automaker's crisis by filing the vote at this time and seeking to divide employees.

David Reed, ACE's president, said that "this is 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."

ACE also said the UAW doesn't have enough support to organize the entire workforce, so it is "trying to divide us into tiny subgroups. This is not in [VW employees] best interests."

In August, a Facebook post on the page "Yes 2 UAW at Volkswagen" claimed that Local 42 members had decided to move forward with a vote of maintenance workers at the plant.

Maintenance employees keep up and fix the specialized plant equipment.

In the 2014 election, the UAW lost the vote of blue-collar workers at VW by a 712 to 626 margin. After the election, the UAW blamed interference by Republican politicians.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Friday in a statement that the union representation issue will be decided by the company and the affected workers.

Dan Gilmore, a Chattanooga labor attorney, said the unit identified in Friday's filing is a sub-group of the workers who voted in 2014.

He said the UAW may believe that the union can "get a foot in the door" if it succeeds with the smaller unit.

"They'll build on that," Gilmore said. "They're confident they can win an election and are one step closer" to representing all the workers.

But, he said, the filing also is an indication that the UAW isn't as confident about winning with the same group as the earlier election.

photo UAW logo tile

The UAW filing also noted that it made a request for bargaining recognition to VW on Aug. 6, but the automaker turned it down.

"They're forcing the UAW to have an election," Gilmore said about VW. "The question is what extent VW sits on their hands."

During the last election, VW and the UAW signed an extensive agreement related to activities regarding the vote and post-election period.

The UAW has said Local 42 has gained the membership of a majority of the blue-collar workers in Chattanooga. It has been recognized for the top tier of a Volkswagen labor policy that stops short of collective bargaining rights.

"Volkswagen's policy in Chattanooga was a gesture, and our local union has engaged accordingly," Casteel said. "At the end of the day, the policy cannot be a substitute for meaningful employee representation and co-determination with management."

The UAW says the union has signed up 816 members, or 55 percent of the blue collar workforce at the plant.

ACE has said in federal filings that it has signed up 381 members among both hourly and salaried employees. It, too, is engaged with the company, though not on as extensive a level as the UAW.

Scott Wilson, a spokesman for the plant, said VW officials have been meeting regularly with Local 42 and ACE according to its Community Organization Engagement policy guidelines.

"The COE policy has allowed us to have regular and productive meetings with both groups and we look forward to continuing with this policy, as we are very pleased with the conversations taking place," he said. He declined further comment.

Earlier this week, UAW members ratified a new four-year agreement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It was the union's first new contract with the Detroit Three automakers since formal negotiations began in July. Some 77 percent of UAW members voted yes.

The UAW's national bargaining team began negotiations with General Motors on Thursday and must still complete talks with Ford.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.