Michigan, Ohio senators weigh into Volkswagen-UAW election in Chattanooga

VW employee says senators are meddling 'in our business'

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

Workers have a fundamental right to choose whether they have union representation in the workplace.

A pair of Democratic U.S. senators from Michigan and another from Ohio have sent Volkswagen a letter urging the car maker to allow an immediate union election at the Chattanooga plant.

But a plant employee said that while the United Auto Workers complains about "outsiders," the Detroit-based union "has now convinced three senators to join them in attacking our local company and to meddle in our business."

U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, both from Michigan, and Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, are "expressing concerns and requesting more information from Volkswagen."

In their letter to Volkswagen Group of America CEO Scott Keogh, they urged VW to ensure any election is free and fair, and they ask a number of questions regarding the current situation.

"We are writing to express our deep concern with delays to an election on union representation for maintenance and production workers at Volkswagen's manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee," they wrote. "Workers have a fundamental right to choose whether they have union representation in the workplace. Any delay in the election further enables anti-union campaigns to target and intimidate workers and violate that fundamental right, and we urge you to immediately drop any efforts to oppose or postpone the election of a union in the Chattanooga plant."

Volkswagen's Herndon, Virginia-based U.S. headquarters confirmed it received the letter from the senators, and it plans to respond to them.

As a company, and as colleagues, we respect the decision of our team and their right to decide on representation.

"As a company, and as colleagues, we respect the decision of our team and their right to decide on representation. We have taken a neutral position on the issue and will continue to do so," the company said in a statement.

Volkswagen-UAW tensions

Brian Rothenberg of the UAW International said that Chattanooga workers deserve the right to vote.

"Volkswagen should stop obstructing the rights of Chattanooga workers to vote and have a union – enough is enough," he said. "Why should any corporation use legal games to prevent Chattanooga workers from having the same workplace rights as all other VW workers in the world? All VW needs to do is to allow the vote to happen."

The UAW filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board on April 9 from workers at the VW plant in Chattanooga requesting a union certification election by late April. But the NLRB initially stayed that request and Volkswagen has asked the labor board not to proceed with a vote by all hourly production workers in Chattanooga until it decides on the results of a 2015 election by the maintenance workers at the Chattanooga VW plant.

The UAW lost a union certification election at the Chattanooga VW plant by all production workers in February 2014 by a margin of 712 to 626, but skilled maintenance workers at the plant voted 108-44 in favor of the UAW in December 2015.

Meanwhile, VW Chattanooga worker Rob Berger said that "we are not interested in becoming Detroit or aligning ourselves with a corrupt union, and we certainly do not need outsiders from Michigan and Ohio telling us what is best for our community."

The anti-UAW group Southern Momentum said that maybe before the three senators "who have no business meddling in our state weigh in, they should check the facts."

"The fact is that the UAW tried to stifle the voices of workers by demanding recognition without a vote," said Chattanooga attorney Maury Nicely of Southern Momentum. "It was the company that protected the employees' right to vote. Federal labor law clearly states that a new election cannot be held at a plant with an unresolved election pending before the National Labor Relations Board, so the UAW is either incompetent or is intentionally misleading workers with false claims about the company blocking a vote."

Nicely said the company is not blocking a vote, but simply following federal labor law.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions which oversees the NLRB, said last week that labor laws are written to allow employees to decide whether they want a union, not to ensure that unions win.

"For 30 years, tens of thousands of new auto jobs have raised Tennessee family incomes and our workers have decided in almost every case that they are better off union-free. The UAW may not like this, but that is the right of employees in a right-to-work state like Tennessee," Alexander said.

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