Volkswagen lawyer attempts to strike down request for new union election in Chattanooga

Vehicles move down the assembly line at the Volkswagen Plant Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A Volkswagen lawyer wants to strike down a request for a new union election at the Chattanooga plant, while a United Auto Workers attorney has stepped up the case for a vote.

"Volkswagen is not opposed to union elections as its history indicates," said VW attorney Arthur Carter in a legal brief to the National Labor Relations Board. "It does believe, however, that unions and governmental agencies should follow proper legal procedures in conducting elections."

But, UAW lawyer Michael Schoenfeld said the NLRB should dismiss VW's claims and set an election date at the plant, calling VW's argument "frivolous."

"Volkswagen's current maneuvering to avoid an election in a wall-to-wall unit that it has for years argued is the only appropriate unit at its assembly plant is disgraceful," he said. "Volkswagen's ridiculous challenge to the petitioned-for unit should be immediately rejected and an election ordered without further delay."

Meanwhile, a so-called union watchdog group, the Center for Union Facts, is launching a series of static and mobile billboards in Chattanooga and Detroit "to educate the public and hold the UAW accountable."

The legal haggling comes after a NLRB hearing in Chattanooga last week that could lead to a third UAW election at the German automaker's plant since 2014. An NLRB administrative hearing officer had given VW and UAW attorneys a week to submit legal briefs and entertained potential election dates in May should the board rule in the union's favor.

Carter argued in the brief that the NLRB should dismiss the union vote request because of prior certification of a group of maintenance, or skilled trades, workers.

Two weeks ago, some VW Chattanooga workers filed a petition for a new election at the plant to align maintenance and production employees with the UAW.

Carter said the union wants to represent the larger unit, but UAW Local 42 in Chattanooga is already the certified representative of the maintenance group.

Last week, the maintenance workers asked the NLRB to disclaim that unit to clear the way for the new election, which was sought for April 29-30.

But, Carter said, a labor rule prohibits petitions from being processed "before the end of the certification year." He argued that year hasn't expired because the case involving VW's refusal to bargain with the unit is still pending before the NLRB.

However, Schoenfeld argued that VW had argued for years that the only appropriate unit at the plant would include production and maintenance workers.

He said the union "has given Volkswagen what it asked for but now Volkswagen shamelessly claims that a wall-to-wall election cannot be held" due to the maintenance unit.

"It is undisputed that the petitioned-for unit is an appropriate unit," Schoenfeld said. "Indeed, it is well established that a unit of production and maintenance employees is presumptively appropriate."

He said that now that maintenance and production employees have asked for a vote, the company "has concocted a nonsensical argument to stymie the will of its workers."

In February 2014, the union lost an 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.

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Union Facts said it's launching the next phase of its national education campaign "on corruption in the ranks of the United Auto Workers."

The center said the billboards will focus on UAW officials admitted guilt in a federal corruption investigation, thousands of auto jobs lost on the union's watch and construction of a luxury home for its former president with non-union labor.

Brian Rothenberg of the UAW International said the union has been "saddened and frustrated" by what has occurred related to the former union officials and worked with the government in the investigation while taking steps to change policies on issues.

"But Chattanooga workers are the ones that don't have the same rights as all other VW workers to bargain," he said. "And it's Chattanooga workers who should be allowed to make this decision for themselves and would be at that bargaining table."

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