Volkswagen and UAW cooperating before today’s union election

February 12, 2014

Volkswagen and UAW cooperating before today’s union election

By Brent Snavely
| Detroit Free Press

The UAW and Volkswagen have already forged a high level of cooperation even before workers at the company’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant" alt="" title="" target="_blank">begin voting Wednesday on whether they want union representation.

Volkswagen has accepted the union’s “principles for fair union elections” that UAW President Bob King began discussing in 2010.

“Volkswagen may be one of the few employers — if not the first — that has ever explicitly agreed to those principles,” said Gary Klotz, a labor attorney with the Detroit firm of Butzel Long. “It’s almost a dream world for the UAW.”

That management-union cooperation, before about 1,500 workers vote Wednesday through Friday, has inflamed opposition among Tennessee Republicans and other anti-union groups who have" alt="" title="" target="_blank">purchased billboard space and lobbied workers to reject the union.

U.S. Sen. and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, R-Tenn., pleaded with Volkswagen workers to reject the UAW, which he described as “a Detroit-based organization” and “the largest shareholder of General Motors.”

That is a reference to the 8.8% stake in GM held by the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, established in the 2009 taxpayer-funded bankruptcy of GM to cover health care claims of the company’s UAW retirees.

The trust chose to accept shares of GM as part of the bankruptcy restructuring. Corker voted against federal aid to GM and Chrysler.

? PDF:" alt="" title="" target="_blank">UAW agreement with Volkswagen

? Related:" alt="" title="" target="_blank">Tennessee legislators threaten to withhold incentives if VW workers choose UAW

“The key to their survival is to come down and organize plants in the Southeast,” Corker said. “We’re concerned about the impact. Look at Detroit.”

Maury Nicely, a Chattanooga lawyer representing the anti-union group Southern Momentum, said some groups in Tennessee are “examining the legality of this rush to an election and whether it may form the basis for some sort of unfair labor practice charge.”

As voting begins, Southern Momentum and the Center for Worker Freedom, funded by Washington, D.C.-based anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist, have accused Volkswagen of backing the UAW.

Republican leaders, who control majorities in both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly, and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam have threatened to reject incentives for a Volkswagen expansion in Chattanooga if workers accept the UAW.

Gary Casteel, a UAW regional director, said it’s “sad that when workers exercise their legal right to form a union some Tennessee politicians are threatening the economic well-being of communities and businesses.”

There is an unusual lack of tension between company leaders and the UAW, at least in their public comments.

Volkswagen and the UAW agreed on Jan. 27 to hold this week’s election under supervision of the National Labor Relations Board.

In most NLRB-supervised elections, corporations fight hard to convince workers to reject a union. Volkswagen is accustomed to dealing with unions in Europe and South America organized through joint employee-management works councils. It has chosen to remain neutral in Chattanooga.

Details of the election agreement include the following provisions:

? The parties “will communicate with employees in a non-adversarial, positive manner and will not defame or make any untruthful statements regarding one another.”

? Both parties will make presentations to employees. The Volkswagen presentation was mandatory. The UAW portion was optional.

? Management provided the UAW with a room where it could talk to employees and answer questions.

? Management informed employees it believes establishment of a works council is in the common interest of Volkswagen and its employees.

? Management gave the UAW a list of employees’ names and home addresses.

Paul Secunda, professor of law at Marquette University, said the election agreement would likely withstand any legal challenges.

“It’s still neutral in that Volkswagen is not saying that regardless of what happens they will support the UAW,” Secunda said. “The NLRB … has generally held that these types of ground rules and procedures are lawful.”

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