Court sends VW Chattanooga case back to labor board

A Volkswagen employee wipes down the sides of cars as they pass her on the assembly line at the Volkswagen Assembly Plant Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
A Volkswagen employee wipes down the sides of cars as they pass her on the assembly line at the Volkswagen Assembly Plant Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A federal appeals court Tuesday agreed to return a case to the National Labor Relations Board for the labor panel's reconsideration involving a micro-union at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the case should be sent back to the NLRB in the wake of the labor panel's recent ruling to reverse an Obama-era decision to permit micro-unions made up of small groups of company workers.

The Republican-majority NLRB earlier this month overruled a standard set in a 2011 case involving Specialty Healthcare that supported micro-unions, which make it easier to unionize companies.

VW and UAW timeline

› February 2014: Volkswagen Chattanooga plant workers vote on the question of aligning with the United Auto Workers, but union loses by a margin of 712 to 626› July: UAW establishes Local 42 in Chattanooga› December 2015: VW skilled trades employees at plant vote 108 to 44 to designate the local as their bargaining representative; VW refuses to come to bargaining table› April 2016: National Labor Relations Board denies VW’s request for a review of December election. NLRB issues a complaint against VW for unfair labor practices› August: NLRB orders VW to bargain with UAW Local 42› September: VW files appeal with U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals› December 2017: NLRB reverses decision on micro-unions and seeks VW case back from appeals court to reconsider it› Appeals court agrees to send the case back to the NLRB

photo The UAW logo is displayed on the podium at a news conference held July 10, 2014, at the IBEW Local 175 in Chattanooga.

The NLRB then asked the appeals court to send back the case before the appeals court ruled on the matter.

The case involved an unfair labor practice charge against the auto company for refusing to bargain with the micro-union at the Chattanooga plant after a group of skilled trades workers agreed 108 to 44 two years ago to align with the United Auto Workers.

But, a reconsideration by the NLRB on the VW plant case may not occur soon.

Dan Gilmore, a Chattanooga labor attorney who teaches at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the term of former NLRB Chairman Philip A. Miscimarra expired Dec. 16. That leaves the board evenly split between those who this month joined in the majority opinion and those who dissented in the micro-union case involving PCC Structurals Inc.

Gilmore said that while the open seat ultimately will be filled by a Republican, the confirmation process can sometimes take a while.

He has said it's hard to know what the NLRB will ultimately do. The panel could decide that the question of whether the unit is appropriate was resolved in the UAW's favor and that VW committed an unfair labor practice, Gilmore said.

But, he added, VW is "likely optimistic" the board's request was a positive sign the panel is seeking to come to a different result. Still, Gilmore said, the UAW will have the opportunity to seek its own appeal.

Steve Cochran, president of UAW Local 42 at the Chattanooga plant, said skilled trades workers in America have a long tradition, dating back to before World War II, of organizing in units that are separate from production workers.

"Two years ago, the NLRB supervised a free and fair election at Volkswagen - and the skilled-trades employees voted overwhelmingly to designate UAW Local 42 as their representative for collective bargaining," he said.

VW has said it won't bargain with the micro-union because it wants all its blue-collar workers to vote on organizing the Chattanooga factory. The union lost a 2014 vote of the plant's workers by a margin of 712 to 626.

VW attorney Arthur Carter said in court papers supporting the NLRB's reconsideration request that because the labor panel changed its policy, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that sending the case back is the proper action.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.