published Friday, January 24th, 2014

UAW, Volkswagen didn't violate labor law in Chattanooga, NLRB says

Factory workers perform diagnostics on a Passat before it is taken through a dyanometer in the assembly section of the Chattanooga Volkswagen Plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Factory workers perform diagnostics on a Passat before it is taken through a dyanometer in the assembly section of the Chattanooga Volkswagen Plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
NLRB report-VW case
NLRB report-VW case
NLRB advice memorandum-UAW case
NLRB advice memorandum-UAW case

A probe by the National Labor Relations Board has found that the United Auto Workers and Volkswagen did not violate U.S. labor law during the union's organizing efforts at the automaker's Chattanooga plant last year.

The NLRB investigation found the UAW did not run afoul of the law when it claimed it had a majority of signatures of hourly employees on cards requesting the workers' permission to represent them. The NRLB report said the union didn't violate the law in its solicitation or handling of the authorization cards.

In addition, in a related case, the NLRB said Volkswagen Group of America did not provide unlawful assistance to the union or unlawfully threaten to condition future work at the plant on whether employees select the UAW as its bargaining representative.

The complaints against the UAW and VW were filed last year by some employees at the plant, and the NLRB reports recommend the dismissal of the charges.

Gary Casteel, a UAW regional director based in Lebanon, Tenn., said there had been no improper activity and the NLRB result is what was expected.

"We knew we had not done anything wrong," he said. "It validates that."

Casteel said the UAW continues to have discussions with VW about the best way to proceed related to the potential setup of a works council at the Chattanooga plant.

Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, which represented the workers, said he's disappointed but not shocked "with the Obama NLRB's recommendation that the Chattanooga Volkswagen workers' charges against the UAW and VW be ignored."

"As we saw with the union claim against Boeing Co. just a few years ago, if VW management was discouraging workers from rejecting UAW representation with threats, there's little question that an NLRB prosecution would have already begun at the UAW's behest," Mix said in a statement.

He said that it's "becoming clear the NLRB holds intimidation aimed at individual workers to a lesser standard. Regardless, we plan to continue to assist VW workers in their fight to choose their own representation without coercion from UAW officials or Volkswagen management."

Volkswagen said in a statement that the decision by the NLRB is a confirmation of its legal position.

"Furthermore, we wish to reiterate that as a general principle, Volkswagen supports the right of employees to representation at all its plants and is in favor of good cooperation with the trade union or unions represented at its plants," the Volkswagen Chattanooga statement said.

The company said that "For this reason, Volkswagen is currently working on an innovative model for the representation of employees' interests which will be suitable for the USA. This model will be based on positive experience in Germany and other countries where the Volkswagen Group is active."

On Wednesday, Bernd Osterloh, VW's global works council chief, told Bloomberg that a potential vote by hourly workers at the factory on UAW representation is unrelated to a decision by the automaker on where to place production of a new sport utility vehicle. But he said that the timing had been hampered by the NLRB complaints.

Last September, eight VW workers filed the federal charges against the UAW, saying the union misled and coerced them and other employees to forfeit their rights in its card-signing campaign to gain their support.

The NLRB finding said the union has been in its organizing campaign in Chattanooga at least since March 2012, and the UAW claimed in July 2013 it had obtained majority status as an appropriate bargaining unit. The NLRB said VW has not agreed to recognize the union based on its asserted majority support, and the parties have not entered into a neutrality agreement or other contractual arrangement.

It said that two of the VW workers had charged they had revoked their authorization cards and asked the union to return them. The NLRB said the union told the employees orally and in a form letter that it would not represent to VW that they supported the UAW representation.

While the union didn't directly address the request to physically return the cards, it said the workers could meet with a UAW representative who would destroy the cards in their presense, the NLRB said. The two employees took no further action to have the cards returned or destroyed, the federal agency said.

In October, four VW workers filed an NLRB charge against the automaker, alleging statements by VW officials were illegally coercing employees into UAW representation.

The NLRB said Stephan Wolf, the deputy chairman of the VW general and group works council, was cited in media reports of saying last September that "we will only agree to an extension of the site or any other model contract when it is clear how to proceed with the employees' representation in the United States.'

The NLRB also said that Osterloh was reported as saying in October that forming a works council in Chattanooga was important and that "we know how important that (second) vehicle is for Chattanooga..."

But, in November, in a visit to Tennessee, Osterloh said that a pending decision about union representation in Chattanooga "will have no bearing on whether the company will decide to add the production of a new SUV in Tennessee or Mexico."

The NLRB said in its findings that VW cannot be held responsible for the statements of German union representatives who are members of the company's supervisory board.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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