Volkswagen Emission Scandal Propels Union Drive

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Volkswagen management questioned Monday the timing of a United Auto Workers (UAW) push to unionize a subgroup in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The union is currently looking to organize a small group of 164 skilled workers at the plant. The timing of the unionizing drive, however, has raised questions.

Volkswagen at the moment is dealing with a national scandal involving how it tests emissions. It started Sept. 18 when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice that the automaker was in violation of the Clean Air Act. About a month later the union filed paperwork Oct. 23 with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking a union election.

“The company finds the timing of this development unfortunate, given the challenges we are facing as a plant, brand and group,” a memo from plant management stated, according to The Associated Press.

The NLRB held a hearing Tuesday to determine if the unit of skilled workers is too small to unionize. The UAW was hoping to hold an election later in the week. With no resolution, according to Chattanooga Times Free Press, officials expect the election to be delayed.

“We believe that the maintenance-only unit requested in the petition is not consistent with our ‘one team’ approach,” the company said in a pettion to the NLRB, which was obtained by “Given these points, we have asked the region to decline the union’s petitioned maintenance-only unit in favor of a unit and election that would include all maintenance and production employees.”

The Chattanooga plant has been a longtime target of the UAW. It represents a way for the union to get footing in the Southern states. The election petition is only the latest in a continuous campaign that has largely been unsuccessful. The union failed February 2014 in a 712 to 626 vote to unionize the entire plant. After the unsuccessful election, the union began organizing workers one-by-one. UAW Local 42 was started as a volunteer union to get a percentage of workers as opposed to the entire plant.

“A key objective for our local union always has been, and still is, moving toward collective bargaining for the purpose of reaching a multi-year contract between Volkswagen and employees in Chattanooga,” Local 42 President Mike Cantrell said in a statement. “We support our colleagues in the skilled trades as they move toward formal recognition of their unit.”

Volkswagen has helped the union somewhat in their piecemeal organizing drive. The company released a policy Nov. 12 that sets guidelines essentially supporting the move to unionize a percentage of workers.  The policy is broken into three levels that grant a different amount of bargaining rights to a labor group depending on how many signatures it gets.

The following month, the UAW was able to get the highest level of rights under the policy. The American Council of Employees (ACE), a group opposed to the UAW, used the same policy to gain some representation rights as well.

“This is a time of great stress and uncertainty for VW-Chattanooga employees and the Volkswagen organization as a whole,” ACE President David Reed told Chattanooga Times Free Press in a statement.

ACE plans to stay out of the latest unionizing attempt. Group Lawyer Maury Nicely noted it isn’t interested in organizing small subgroups.

The EPA has alleged the company intentionally programmed car engines to not properly detect emissions. The UAW did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Caller News Foundation.

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