Volkswagen, United Auto Workers tangle over Chattanooga plant election questions before new vote

Volkswagen employees perform checks as vehicles move down the assembly line at the Volkswagen Assembly Plant Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Each vehicle goes through variety of inspections before reaching the end of the assembly line.

Lawyers for Volkswagen and the United Auto Workers are making new charges and counter-charges related to another possible union vote at the VW Chattanooga factory.

The union is asking that at a planned National Labor Relations Board hearing in Chattanooga today that a new union vote be set at the plant.

"Volkswagen has concocted a captious last-minute challenge," said UAW attorney Michael Schoenfeld in a filing to the NLRB in response to a VW request. "Its desperation is evident, as there is no well-founded reason to not proceed to election."

VW wants to block UAW Local 42 in Chattanooga from disclaiming an earlier vote at the plant in order to hold a new election. The company also seeks to quash efforts by the union to gather personnel information on plant workers and the factory's future plans.

VW attorneys Arthur Carter and A. John Harper III said the information is "confidential and proprietary."

A filing said the company would be required to furnish the union with documents showing its employees' entire disciplinary history and, potentially, medical history. That's despite "the fact that some of these employees [such as supervisory personnel] will never be represented by the union," the attorneys said.

Volkswagen said Tuesday in a statement that it wants questions regarding the prior union vote involving just maintenance workers at its Chattanooga plant to be resolved first before another election is called at the factory.

The company said that while it respects workers' rights to decide union representation, it has always believed an election should include production and maintenance employees and it will now "take steps to ensure that the prior maintenance-only petition is properly resolved first."

The statement said the company's Chattanooga plant has heard concerns workers raised in an open dialogue and responded with improvements. The company said it has adjusted shift work at the plant, reduced overtime to have more predictability and raised wages.

"We want to continue that open dialogue also in the future," the VW statement said. "Given the challenges the industry is facing, a motivated and skilled workforce is a key pillar for the success of our company. We believe that we can achieve more for the company and our workers by continuing that open dialogue as we have done successfully so far."

But Brian Rothenberg of the UAW International said that all Chattanooga workers want to do is vote and be treated like every other VW worker.

"Volkswagen has refused to bargain with the 2015 maintenance workers," he said. "Now Volkswagen is objecting to both the production and maintenance workers moving forward with a vote, citing their objections from 2015. Chattanooga workers deserve better and a right to vote."

Last week, some VW Chattanooga workers filed a petition for a new election at the plant to align with the UAW. It would be the third union vote at the plant since 2014.

In February 2014, the union lost the first election involving production and skilled maintenance workers by a margin of 712 to 626.

But in the 2015 vote of just maintenance workers, who keep up and repair the robots and other equipment in the plant, the union prevailed by 108 to 44.

VW has refused to bargain with the smaller unit, saying it wanted a vote of all the production and maintenance workers, and the case has been tied up in court and before the NLRB.

On Monday, the unionized unit of maintenance workers asked the NLRB to disclaim the second vote to clear the way for the new election, which was sought at the end of this month.

But VW objected, saying there are issues still pending before the NLRB on which the panel hasn't ruled.

An NRLB administrative hearing officer is slated to hear VW and union lawyers argue today.

UAW attorney Schoenfeld said in a filing that Volkswagen, fearing the 'Careful What You Ask For' result it has long sought, is making the new challenge to a possible third election.

He said there is "no well-founded reason to not proceed to election in the wall-to-wall unit" sought by the union.

But VW attorneys said the underlying request to disclaim the second union vote is improper, and that makes the sought-after documents about the plant workers and the company irrelevant.

They said the union request "invades upon the privacy rights of the company's employees."

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.