When the United Auto Workers first tried to unionize production workers at Volkswagen's assembly plant in Chattanooga more than five years ago, the company filed the request to the National Labor Relations Board after the union collected enough petition signatures.
Ahead of that 2014 union vote, VW and the UAW signed a neutrality pledge that limited both sides from directly engaging in criticism of one another and also blocked the union from making house calls to plant workers about the union campaign.
But after UAW narrowly lost that organizing bid by a 712-626 vote in February 2014, the UAW is trying again to organize the Chattanooga plant with a more confrontational approach this year from both the union, the company and pro- and anti-union groups drawn to the battle.
An anti-union group known as the Center for Union Facts has blasted the United Auto Workers in newspaper ads for having "a culture of corruption" willing to "sell out union members." The Washington, D.C., group highlights the conviction of a former UAW vice president for misusing funds for lavish spending on UAW leaders.
In response last week, a new pro-union group was created, the Center for VW Facts, which said "Volkswagen has engaged in a deceptive campaign" and the company has a "culture of corruption" as evidenced by VW's emissions scandal in which the company tried in the past to deceive regulators about the environmental record of its diesel-engine cars.
"It's time to take the gloves off and expose the real Volkswagen record for everyone to see," said Joe DiSano, a spokesman for VWFacts.org. "When you strip away the PR, the reality of Volkswagen's anti-worker, anti-consumer record is plain to see. If Volkswagen would lie to over 10 million customers, how can anyone, anywhere believe a word coming from Volkswagen on any subject?"
Such attacks on the company will only hurt the workers UAW is trying to help, according to another anti-union group, Southern Momentum.
"Volkswagen may not be perfect, but it is sickening that the UAW and its cronies have now stood up an organization to tear down a company that employs thousands of Chattanoogans," Rob Berger, a team member at Volkswagen Chattanooga, said in a statement distributed by Southern Momentum. "The UAW has a record of running companies out of town, and this latest development shows why. When they attack Volkswagen, they attack me. "
The attacks on VW were launched after the company urged the National Labor Relations Board not to proceed with a new election for the UAW in Chattanooga.
In filings with the NLRB, Volkswagen repeated again this week that the petition filed by the UAW for another vote of the hourly VW workers in Chattanooga should not be considered until it resolves questions over the UAW's 2015 bid to represent the skilled-trades workers at the plant. Volkswagen challenged that vote, claiming the union was trying to create an illegal micro-union of a select group of workers, and said all hourly workers at the plant need to decide on union representation.
After battling in court and before the NLRB for more than three years without any resolution, the UAW in April withdrew the smaller union request and petitioned for a vote among all 1,700 production workers at the plant. The union said it was just doing what the VW said it wanted, but the company insists the earlier union case must still be resolved first.
The union filed petitions from more than 30 percent of the hourly workers on April 9 requesting another election on whether workers want to be represented by the UAW. But the company has challenged that request due to outstanding disputes over another, smaller 2015 election in which skilled-trades workers at VW voted 108-44 in favor of the UAW.
The National Labor Relations Board has issued a stay on the new unionization bid while it considers the case.
"We are not asking the stay to continue, we simply restated our position that the petition should not have been filed while the prior petition and claims against us remained pending," VW spokesman Amanda Plecas said in a statement. "Volkswagen does not oppose an election, but it is important to us that the process be carried out fairly and legally."
But UAW officials contend the company is trying to block a new vote on the union.
"After insisting for the last four years that they would only agree to a vote of all production and maintenance workers, Volkswagen has now blocked just such a vote," UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said in a statement last week. "VW's manipulation of the NLRB process to halt a vote of its workers is a travesty. Let us vote."
Craig Becker, general counsel for the AFL-CIO, also said the union has a "grave concern" about the NLRB's handling Volkswagen case.
"The board's failure to dispose of the refusal-to-bargain case for 16 months after remand, the issuance of a stay without explanation, and the failure to dissolve that stay immediately after the only asserted ground for its issuance ceased to exist, clearly suggest that the board is not acting as a neutral decision maker," Becker said in a letter to the NLRB and Congressional officials.
VW invited Gov. Bill Lee to speak to VW workers last month about his concerns with union representation and the company has continued to challenge any scheduling of a new union vote.
"We believe that we can achieve more for the company and our team by continuing an open dialogue as we have done successfully so far," Plecas said in a statement similar to what Lee said in his comments to the workers. "Nevertheless, we respect our workers' rights to decide on representation and we will respect the decision of our team."
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6340.