Opinion: Volkswagen workers: Beware of the UAW’s plan to skip a secret ballot election

Staff file photo by Olivia Ross / The Volkswagen plant at Enterprise South is seen in this July 12, 2022, file photo.
Staff file photo by Olivia Ross / The Volkswagen plant at Enterprise South is seen in this July 12, 2022, file photo.

Having failed in both 2014 and 2019 to get the workers of Chattanooga's Volkswagen (VW) plant to vote them into power, United Auto Workers (UAW) union officials on their third attempt appear to have laid the groundwork to seize control of the plant with no employee vote at all.

Here's how this is possible: As a result of sweeping changes recently made by former union lawyers currently sitting on the Biden administration's National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), UAW organizers now have a new mechanism to bypass the NLRB's traditional secret ballot vote process. The UAW is already taking legal steps to do just that.

Last August, in a split decision, the NLRB threw out the decades-old rulebook for union organizing campaigns.

Under its new Cemex doctrine, the NLRB will now force a company to recognize a union based on "card check," a process that uses "authorization cards" collected by union organizers as a substitute for votes in a secret ballot election.

In theory, a company can insist on a secret ballot vote under the Cemex policy by rushing a vote request to the NLRB, but doing so doesn't mean the NLRB will conduct an election. Union boss-friendly NLRB members can use any union allegation — UAW lawyers have already filed four such cases — for skipping a secret ballot election entirely, or later overturning a vote that goes against the UAW.

It doesn't matter if the UAW's allegations against the company are minor, or if the NLRB changes precedent to make actions that were perfectly legal when they happened new violations of NLRB rules. Any finding by the NLRB for the UAW could mean VW team members never get a chance to vote like they had in 2014 and 2019.

Imposing "representation" through card check and bypassing a secret ballot election is a huge advantage for UAW organizers because a card signed in their presence doesn't mean a worker will actually vote for the union in the privacy of the voting booth. Absent that privacy, union organizers can and do wield pressure tactics, manipulation and intimidation to secure signatures, which is why even an AFL-CIO organizing guide admitted many workers sign cards just to "get the union off my back."

VW team members have seen some of these tactics firsthand. In 2013, when the UAW targeted the plant, independent-minded employees used free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation to file federal unfair labor practice charges against the UAW for misleading workers about the meaning of such cards.

Then-UAW President Bob King claimed that the union had cards from a majority of workers, but when that was put to the test in an early 2014 vote, a majority voted against the UAW. This time, UAW lawyers have already taken the first steps at the NLRB to skip any such secret ballot election, or just overturn one where workers reject the UAW.

All this puts VW workers interested in preserving their ability to have their say in a secret ballot election in a precarious situation. In response, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys have issued a special legal notice that outlines their legal rights and options, including how to request free legal aid to exercise those rights and how to revoke a previously signed card.

Most critically, VW employees should be wary of signing anything from the union. UAW officials recently announced they already have enough cards (over 30%) to trigger an NLRB-run election — so any further cards they obtain aren't necessary to request a secret ballot election — but can be used to bypass or overturn a vote.

Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Foundation.

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