VW’s top labor rep. says company may not build again in the South without a union
Chattanooga, TN – The United Auto Workers (UAW) filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Feb. 21, asking it to set aside the results of an election in which workers at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant voted not to join the union.
Citing what it called “interference by politicians and outside special interest groups,” the UAW said the NLRB would investigate the election and decide if there are grounds to scrap it and hold a new one.
And, in a stunning, encouraging turn for the labor community, Volkswagen’s top labor representative last week suggested the company may head to more unionized pastures for its next U.S. plant construction, rather than build in the South following the defeat of a European style “works council” at the Chattanooga plant.
According to Reuters news service, Volkswagen’s top labor representative threatened to try to block further investments by the German carmaker in the southern United States if its workers there are not unionized.
Workers at VW’s factory in Chattanooga on Feb. 14 voted against representation by the UAW, rejecting efforts by VW representatives to set up a German-style works council at the plant.
German workers enjoy considerable influence over company decisions under the legally enshrined “co-determination” principle which is anathema to many politicians in the U.S. who see organized labor as a threat to profits and job growth.
Chattanooga is VW’s only factory in the U.S. and one of the company’s few in the world without a works council.
“If co-determination isn’t guaranteed in the first place, we as workers will hardly be able to vote in favor” of potentially building another plant in the U.S. south, said Bernd Osterloh, head of VW’s works council.
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The UAW cited statements by Tennessee Senator Bob Corker (R) and other local politicians leading up to the vote in filing the complaint.
Corker dropped a bombshell on the first day of the election, stating: “I’ve had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga.”
Volkswagen flatly denied Corker’s claim.
“Senator Corker’s conduct was shameful and undertaken with utter disregard for the rights of the citizens of Tennessee and surrounding states that work at Volkswagen Chattanooga,” the union said in a 58-page document filed Friday. “It is a more than adequate basis for sustaining these objections.”
The NLRB regional office in Atlanta will conduct a hearing before making a decision. Either the UAW or Volkswagen can appeal that decision to the NLRB office in Washington, D.C.
‘ATMOSPHERE OF FEAR’
The appeal accuses Corker and others of creating “a general atmosphere of fear or reprisal rendering a free election impossible.”
“The nature of the threat — the diminishment of job security if the workers vote for the union — is, like the threat of a plant closing, among the most serious that can occur,” the UAW said in its appeal.
Corker urged workers to reject the union and suggested Volkswagen would not build a new SUV in Chattanooga if workers voted for the UAW. Volkswagen management said the union vote would not affect a decision to build the SUV in Chattanooga or another VW factory in Puebla, Mexico.
Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said accepting the UAW would discourage other companies from moving into the state. The leader of the state Senate threatened to withhold tax incentives to support new investment at a UAW-affiliated Volkswagen.
“It’s an outrage that politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility,” said UAW President Bob King. “It is extraordinary interference in the private decision of workers to have a U.S. senator, a governor and leaders of the state legislature threaten the company with the denial of economic incentives and workers with a loss of product.”
(Information for this story from the UAW, Reuters, USA Today and the Huffington Post)