Labor rally supports Volkswagen Chattanooga vote, but UAW watchdog cites union's 'culture of corruption'

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.

Amid pro-union signs, music and speakers, a rally for the United Auto Workers' efforts to organize Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant drew about 70 people on Monday.

"Let them vote" was the oft-used phrase at the rally at Miller Park as representatives of a variety of Chattanooga unions supported the UAW and its petition for another election at the factory - its third in five years.

Billy Quigg, a seven-year VW Chattanooga employee, told the group that the UAW is "on the brink of success."

"Volkswagen is trying to deny our legal right," he said, calling on the automaker to "stop the legal games."

But a small group from the Center for Union Facts, a union watchdog, showed up with their own sign which stated that "It's time for the UAW to fix its culture of corruption." Union supporters tried to block that sign with their placards.

Also, Southern Momentum, an anti-UAW group, defended the carmaker in a statement, saying VW is trying to protect workers' right to vote by ensuring labor laws are followed.

"Regardless, the message sent tonight was clear: this community rejects the UAW and does not appreciate it and its cronies' continued efforts to tear down a company that employs thousands of Chattanoogans," said Maury Nicely, a Chattanooga lawyer for Southern Momentum, calling the rally turnout "sparse."

The UAW believes the National Labor Relations Board will take action that could permit a union vote at the Volkswagen assembly plant to take place, though the timing is unclear. Last month, some workers at the VW plant petitioned the UAW for another union election.

On Monday, speaker after speaker called for a new election at the plant that employs about 3,500 people making the Passat sedan and Atlas SUV.

Carla Leslie of the United Steelworkers Local 15120 said union workers "build buildings, teach children, drive buses and deliver mail."

"We're celebrating working people and supporting VW workers," she said at the rally sponsored by the Chattanooga Area Labor Council.

Lakecha Strickland of the Amalgamated Transit Union said its members are permitted to negotiate a contract with benefits and a safe workplace.

"We stand in solidarity with VW workers," she said.

Steve Russell of the Service Employees International Union pointed to the people carrying the anti-UAW sign, saying unions even support the rights of "you scabs who are corporate tools."

He mentioned U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., saying that Chattanooga will be "a union town again."

"We won't forget what you're doing to stop us," Russell said.

Michael Gilliland of Chattanooga in Action for Love, Equity and Benevolence said the city once had a vibrant labor movement.

"If VW is given a voice on the job, it will help all Chattanoogans," said Gilliland, who called his group a coalition of the faith community and labor.

But Charlyce Bozzello of the Center for Union Facts said the Washington, D.C.-based group heard about the planned rally and wanted to come to Chattanooga to have an impact.

"This is the big story," she said, adding that the UAW is under question. The center has cited the conviction of four senior union officials in an ongoing federal investigation and it has noted that the UAW's spending habits have come under intense public scrutiny. The center has launched a website

Nicely of Southern Momentum said cries of "Let them vote" fall on deaf ears when it was the UAW that "asked to stifle the voices of Volkswagen workers" by earlier calling for union recognition without a vote by the use of cards signed by employees supporting a union.

He said VW has never said it doesn't want a vote.

"Everybody knows there will be a vote," Nicely said. "Employees deserve to hear both sides. Everybody has a right to be heard."

Nicely also criticized new ads and commercials attacking VW in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal.

"We want VW to be a success in this community for a long time," he said.

Last month, some workers at the VW plant petitioned the UAW for another union election, which would be the third at the factory since 2014.

The UAW lost the first vote by a margin of 712 to 626. In 2015, a smaller group of maintenance workers won a union vote at the plant by 108-44.

Last month after waiting more than three years for the courts and NLRB to decide on the validity of the union for the maintenance workers, the UAW disclaimed the 2015 election and sought NLRB action to revoke the unit so a new election of all maintenance and production workers could take place.

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