UAW hopes to get recognition at Chattanooga VW plant without vote

September 13, 2013

UAW hopes to get recognition at Chattanooga VW plant without vote

Company has power to accept or reject cards

By G. Chambers Williams III
| The Tennessean

The United Auto Workers says it now has a majority of the 2,400 workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant who have signed cards saying they want union representation.

But the union isn’t planning to call for a vote to decide the issue, because it doesn’t believe it could get a “fair election,” said Gary Casteel, the Lebanon-based director of UAW District 8, which includes Tennessee.

“We’ve determined we definitely have a majority of employees who favor this representation,” Casteel said. “But we are not seeking a vote necessarily; we want some way to get fair recognition. We know if we go for a traditional election where the outside organizations could campaign against us, we’d probably lose.”

So how could the union circumvent the usual secret-ballot process and get its foot in the door at Volkswagen, which would make it the first of the foreign automakers in the South to unionize?

It’s simple, Casteel and other labor experts say. Under the so-called “card check” method, Volkswagen’s management could acknowledge that the UAW has enough signatures of workers who want the union — at least 50 percent plus one — and just go ahead and recognize the union as the workers’ bargaining unit.

Not so fast, opponents say.

Anti-union groups are already openly fighting the UAW’s move to organize at the plant. One, the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, even put a message on a billboard near the factory in June that said: “Auto unions ate Detroit. Next meal Chattanooga?”

Opponents also are questioning the validity of the cards the UAW says it has in hand from workers requesting a union.

“We’ve gotten a number of calls from folks in the plant who are very concerned about these new developments,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, another anti-union group based in Washington.

“They were told that a signature on the card was to call for a union election, not to be represented by the union,” Mix said. “The union doesn’t want an election, because workers who were intimidated into signing the cards would have a chance to reject the union in a secret ballot.”

Mix called the UAW’s recent announcements about having a majority of signatures a “standard campaign tactic.”

“It’s designed to convince the undecided workers that, ‘If all the others are for it, I guess I am, too.’ But we have plenty of employees calling us who say they don’t want the union.”

What’s unusual in the Volkswagen case, compared with other efforts to organize auto plants in the South such as Nissan in Smyrna, is that Volkswagen’s management appears to be at least neutral, if not sympathetic, to the UAW effort. Volkswagen has acknowledged hosting talks with union leaders at the automaker’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.

But the approach the union is taking at VW is different from its normal organizing effort. The union is promising to introduce the German “works council” concept that proponents say creates more of a partnership than an adversarial relationship.

Casteel and other UAW officials, including Bob King, the union’s president, say they have been warmly received by the automaker’s managers and union leaders in discussions about setting up a works council at the Chattanooga plant.

That’s just a ploy to get a foot in the door at the plant, though, Mix said.

“There is a growing group of folks who are coming to realize this works council idea is not what the UAW is making it out to be,” he said.

The UAW says that under current U.S. law, no works council could be set up without the workers first recognizing a union as its bargaining agent. President Bill Clinton twice vetoed legislation in the late 1990s that would have allowed employees to set up such worker-management councils without first bringing in a union, Mix said.

Volkswagen’s official position is that the Chattanooga workers have the right to choose whether they want to be represented by a union, and the company takes no stand on that either way.

“In the U.S., a works council can only be realized together with a trade union,” Volkswagen’s managers said in a recent letter to Chattanooga employees. “This is the reason why Volkswagen has started a dialogue with the UAW in order to check the possibility of implementing an innovative model of employee representation. … Every single team member makes his or her own decision, and this will be respected by us.”

Company’s choice

Mix and other opponents, though, are demanding that if the UAW wants to organize at the plant, it must do so through a secret ballot. And usually, unless at least two-thirds of the workers have signed cards calling for a vote, the union won’t try to schedule one, he added.

“But if VW accepts those cards, the union is certified,” Mix said. “Volkswagen management is the only party in this whole system that can ask for a secret ballot. If they don’t, the union would win. So VW has a pretty big role to play.”

Lowell Turner, a professor of labor relations at Cornell University and a former union organizer, said he believes the election process should be avoided if the UAW has a majority of worker signatures.

If an election is called, the law allows a campaign period of at least 40 days, which gives opponents time to organize their efforts, he said.

“An election opens the door for the National Right to Work committee and all kinds of people who don’t belong there to wage a massive anti-union campaign, which they will do,” Turner said. “But if the union has a majority of signatures, it’s really up to Volkswagen.”

Casteel said the union is “continuing our discussions with Volkswagen on the best way to proceed.”

“It’s no secret we’re talking,” he said. “I don’t want to speculate on a timeline. I think those workers are very close to achieving the recognition they want.”

Seniority Lists
Recent Posts!
Bargaining Committee

Mike Herron
Tim Stannard
Zone at Large – 1st
Danny Taylor
Zone at Large – 2nd
Mark Wilkerson
Joe McClure
Chad Poynor
Steve Roberts
Derek Lewis
Bill Cundiff
Kirk Zebbs
Don Numinen
Jay Minella
Danny Bragg
Chris Hill
Rashad Thomas
Keith Oswald
Chris Brown

1853 Officers

Tim Stannard
Mike Herron
Vice President
Darrell DeJean
Financial Secretary
Mark Wunderlin
Recording Secretary
Peggy Mullins
Trustee (3)
Jay Lowe
Dave Clements
Dave Spare
Sgt. at Arms
David C Spare
Ashley Holloway
E-Board at Large (2)
David Ryder
Steve Roberts
GM Unit Chair
Mike Herron
Leadec Unit Chair
Larry Poole
Ryder Unit Chair
Patrick Linck
AFV Unit Chair
Neil Osborne
Retiree Chair
Mike Martinez

Get Text Alerts


*Standard text messaging rates may apply from your carrier