The United Auto Workers (UAW) was given the go ahead Wednesday to hold an election for a subgroup of Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., despite the company arguing against it.
The union originally wanted to hold the election during the first week of November. Volkswagen argued the subgroup of 164 skilled workers was too small. After a two-day hearing, the National Labor Relations Board decided Nov. 4 to hold off the election so it could decide whether or not it should even happen. After weeks of deliberation, the board is giving the go ahead.
“We’re pleased that the NLRB upheld our members’ rights,” UAW Local 42 President Mike Cantrell said in a statement. “There are multiple paths to collective bargaining, and this is a step in the right direction. We hope the company will support the same rights for employees in Chattanooga that are enjoyed by our Volkswagen co-workers around the world.”
Volkswagen has insisted it is neutral on unionizing and would respect whatever its employees decided. The problem is, the automaker doesn’t want the plant divided between union and nonunion workers. It has instead advocated for a full vote of the over 1,400 maintenance and production employees at the plant.
On the other hand, the UAW has failed previously to unionize the entire plant. Targeting a subgroup could potentially offer the union potential it didn’t previously have. The UAW filed paperwork seeking a union election on Oct. 23.
The UAW failed in February 2014 to organize all the workers in a 712 to 626 vote. In response, it began organizing workers with a piecemeal approach. Local 42 was started as a volunteer union to get a percentage of workers as opposed to the entire plant.
The Chattanooga Volkswagen plant has been a longtime target of the UAW, but the timing of the current unionizing drive has raised questions. Volkswagen is dealing with a national scandal involving how it tests emissions. On Sept. 18 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice that Volkswagen was in violation of the Clean Air Act. The EPA alleged the automaker intentionally programmed car engines to game emissions tests.
“It’s unfortunate that, in the middle of Volkswagen’s widening emissions scandal, we had to spend weeks debating workers’ rights that clearly are protected under federal law,” UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said in a statement. “Volkswagen’s attempt to sidestep U.S. law was a waste of employees’ time and energy, and a waste of government resources.”
Volkswagen has been somewhat helpful to the UAW, releasing a policy Nov. 12 that sets guidelines essentially supporting the move to unionize a percentage of workers. The policy establishes three different levels that grant a labor group different bargaining rights, 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.
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