Maintenance workers at VW plant in Tennessee seek union vote

AP News
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Posted: Oct 23, 2015 5:14 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Maintenance workers at Volkswagen's lone U.S. plant in Tennessee are seeking a new election in two weeks on exclusive union representation by the United Auto Workers.

Under the filing with the National Labor Relations Board on Friday, the two-day election starting on Nov. 5 only applies to the about 165 "skilled trade" workers at the plant.

Union officials insist that the renewed collective bargaining push by the subset of its Local 42 is unrelated to VW's diesel emissions cheating scandal that has caused major management turnover at the world's largest automaker.

"We have said from the beginning of Local 42 that there are multiple paths to reach collective bargaining," Mike Cantrell, the president of the local union, said in a statement. "We have been considering this option for some time. All options have been, and will remain, on the table."

The UAW was defeated on a 712-626 vote in a union election at the Chattanooga plant last year after an acrimonious campaign, falling short of efforts to organize workers at its first foreign-owned auto plant in the South.

The union has since said its Local 42 has gained the membership of a majority of the blue-collar workers in Chattanooga and has been recognized for the top tier of a Volkswagen labor policy that stops short of collective bargaining rights.

"Volkswagen's policy in Chattanooga was a gesture, and our local union has engaged accordingly," said Gary Casteel, the secretary-treasurer of the UAW. "At the end of the day, the policy cannot be a substitute for meaningful employee representation and co-determination with management."

A rival labor group called the American Council of Employees has said in federal filings that it has signed up 381 members among both hourly and salaried employees in its efforts to keep the UAW at bay. The UAW's filings say the union has signed up 816 members, or 55 percent of the blue collar workforce at the plant.

Plant spokesman Scott Wilson acknowledged the maintenance workers' filing, but noted in an email that Volkswagen's current policy "has allowed us to have regular and productive meetings with both groups and we look forward to continuing with this policy, as we are very pleased with the conversations taking place."

The new filing comes less than a week before Tennessee lawmakers hold a hearing in Chattanooga about the status of the incentive package granted to the German automaker in light of the emissions scandal. Those hearings have been pushed by Republican state Sen. Bo Watson of Chattanooga, who has criticized Volkswagen for not doing more to prevent the union from gaining a foothold at the plant.

Watson and other state Republicans, such as U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam, have warned that UAW representation at the plant would chase away other automakers who might come to the region. Haslam spokesman David Smith said the governor questions why the UAW's election petition was brought amid the emissions scandal facing the company.

"Now is not a good time for this for all of the obvious reasons," Smith said.

The UAW said federal law allows units within the workforce to seek collective bargaining rights, but opponents consider that piecemeal approach as an unwelcome development.

Corker took a lead role in speaking out against the UAW before the 2014 election, and has been a critic of the union since the auto industry bailout during the Great Recession.

"These are the same UAW characteristics we witnessed firsthand while trying to negotiate a responsible solution when GM and Chrysler had their backs up against the wall during the 2008 auto crisis," Corker said in an email Friday. "But ultimately, this is a matter that will be decided between the company and affected workers."