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Autoworker Union Gains Ground On Volkswagen

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The United Auto Workers (UAW) successfully unionized a subgroup of 164 skilled workers Friday at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. despite the company opposing the union election.

Local 42 of the union won the election with 71 percent voting in favor of representation. The election results are a huge victory for the UAW which has been trying to organize the plant for about two years. Volkswagen, however, opposed the election arguing it doesn’t want employees split between union and nonunion. It instead advocates for a full vote of the more than 1,400 maintenance and production employees at the plant.

“A key objective for our local union always has been 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 have said from the beginning of Local 42 that there are multiple paths to reach collective bargaining. We believe these paths will give all of us a voice at Volkswagen in due time.”

Voting began Thursday after the National Labor Relations Board ruled Nov. 18 the union can hold an election. The automakers urged that the election not be held because the group of workers is too small. It plans to appeal the NLRB decision. With its previously failures, though, organizing a subgroup as opposed to the entire plant offered the union an opening. Plant workers voted 712 to 626 in February 2014, against representation.

The American Council of Employees (ACE) in a letter Thursday expressed concern with how the union was trying to organize plant workers. The group has positioned itself as an alternative to the UAW. Like the company, ACE opposes the idea of organizing subgroups of workers within the plant. It also questions the timing of the push.

At the moment Volkswagen is dealing with an international scandal involving how it tests emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency alleges the company intentionally programmed car engines to not properly detect emissions. About a month later the EPA complaint, the union filed paperwork with the NLRB seeking a union election.The push to organize the subgroup of workers put the UAW at odds with a company it previously had support from.

The automaker released a policy November of 2014 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. ACE used the policy to gain some representation rights as well.

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