The National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint against Volkswagen related to the automaker's refusal to bargain with the United Auto Workers at its Chattanooga factory.
The complaint involves health insurance benefits for VW plant workers and a change in work hours for some skilled trades employees, who voted in December 2015 to align with the UAW.
The NLRB said the insurance matter and work hours are "mandatory subjects for the purposes of collective bargaining."
The complaint said VW raised the issues "without prior notice to the union and without affording the union an opportunity to bargain with respondent with respect to this conduct and the effects of this conduct."
However, a Chattanooga VW plant spokesman said it's unable to bargain with UAW Local 42 until the U.S. Court of Appeals rules on its challenge to the legitimacy of the union's bargaining unit at the factory.
"As has long been the case, Volkswagen supports the right of all of our employees to decide the question of union representation," said VW spokesman Scott Wilson.
In 2015, VW's skilled trades employees at the plant voted 108-44 to be represented by the UAW. But the company declined to bargain, saying it wanted to allow production and skilled trades workers to vote as one on the matter of union representation. About a year earlier, plant workers had voted against UAW representation 712-626.
The NLRB later ruled that the smaller group of skilled trade employees, who maintain and fix the plant equipment, was a legal voting unit.
VW, however, appealed and said it fundamentally disagrees with the decision to separate maintenance and production workers.
Wilson said VW will continue "our effort to allow everyone to vote as one group on the matter of union representation."
Dan Gilmore, a Chattanooga attorney who has followed the case, said it appears the complaint alleges that VW unilaterally took the two actions and violated a section of labor law that makes it unlawful for an employer to "interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights."
"In other words, VW is retaliating against the unit employees because of how a majority of them voted," he said.
Gilmore said the new angle may be why the NLRB is pursuing the complaint against VW even though the obligation to bargain over anything with the union is still under appeal.
Steve Cochran, president of UAW Local 42, said earlier this week that the VW employees are "disappointed that Volkswagen has decided to operate in violation of federal law by ignoring the NLRB's order to join employees at the bargaining table."
"Myself and my hard-working colleagues feel betrayed by a company that honors employees' rights everywhere in the world except Chattanooga," he said. "However, we have vowed to not stop until we achieve meaningful representation in the plant and collective bargaining that leads to a contract."
Contact staff writer Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.
Updated May 12 at 11:39 p.m. with additional information.