The National Labor Relations Board rejected Volkswagen of America’s bid to set aside a vote by maintenance workers approving representation by the United Auto Workers at the company’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Volkswagen is studying the NLRB ruling, which cleared the way for UAW, said VW spokesman Scott Wilson, who declined further comment. VW filed briefs with the NLRB stating that a union representing maintenance workers at the plant complicated the German automaker’s ability to manage the facility.
A three-member NLRB panel denied Volkswagen’s request for the agency to review a December 2015 election in which skilled-trades employees in Chattanooga voted overwhelmingly to designate UAW Local 42 as their representative for the purpose of collective bargaining. The denial upholds the results of the election, which the NLRB supervised.
Volkswagen argued in its now-rejected appeal to the NLRB the maintenance worker-only bargaining unit may not be appropriate for collective bargaining, as VW consistently held the position that production and maintenance employees share a common community of interest and should have an equal voice in their workplace.
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In December, workers in the skilled trades at the Chattanooga plant became the first workers in the Southern United States to vote for union representation when 70% of them voted to join the UAW. The election was supervised by the National Labor Relations board.
The UAW is pressing VW to negotiate a new contract for the 160 members of the unit approved by the NLRB – the first negotiated at an auto plant in the South owned by an Asian or European carmaker. The Chattanooga plant has a total of 1,600 employees, but the number is expected to grow as the company prepares to use the plant to build a new sport utility vehicle, Cross Blue, which is critical to rebuilding the company’s sales in the U.S. in the wake of the diesel scandal.
Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the International union’s Transnational Department, said Volkswagen’s refusal to come to the bargaining table since the December election is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
The NLRB clearly stated it views the skilled-trades election in Chattanooga as a legal and appropriate step toward meaningful employee representation, Casteel said.
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“We hope Volkswagen’s new management team will accept the government’s decision and refocus on the core values that made it a successful brand — environmental sustainability and meaningful employee representation,” he said. “We call on Volkswagen to immediately move forward with UAW Local 42, in the German spirit of co-determination.”
UAW Local 42 has strong support among blue-collar workers in the Chattanooga plant — the only Volkswagen facility in the world that remains unrepresented on the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, the influential body of employee leaders from around the world. In 2014, the Global Group Works Council and IG Metall, the powerful German trade union, signed a letter stating their desire for Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant to be a “UAW-represented facility.”
Federal law provides for units within a workforce to seek recognition for achieving collective bargaining. In its order, the NLRB noted that employees in the skilled-trades unit at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant are “readily identifiable as a group” and that Volkswagen failed to demonstrate otherwise.
Local union members applauded the order. “The NLRB supervised a fair election at the plant and then promptly certified the results,” said Mike Cantrell, president of UAW Local 42. “We’re glad to see the decision upheld and we look forward to meeting Volkswagen at the collective bargaining table in the near future.”
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Collective bargaining is a common practice between employees and employers in the U.S. The NLRB describes collective bargaining as an effort between an employer and employees to “bargain in good faith about wages, hours, vacation time, insurance, safety practices and other subjects.”