The United Auto Workers (UAW) union has decided to drop its objections filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over what it had claimed was illegal interference with a vote to unionize at a Chattanooga, Tennessee Volkswagen plant in February, the company said in a press release on Monday. The union said this “effectively terminate[s] the NLRB review process,” in which it had asked for the election results to be thrown out so that it could have a new one.
Volkswagen had remained neutral in the run up to the election and is in favor of creating a works council at the plant, a formalized structure for workers and management to discuss finances and business plans as well as productivity and safety that exists in all of VW’s plants in the rest of the world, which would require a union under United States law. But Tennessee lawmakers had been vocal in their opposition to the vote. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) told a local paper there would be “some ramifications” for the state’s ability to attract business if workers joined the union, and leaked documents show that he also made $300 million in incentives for the company to expand the plant contingent on the outcome of the vote. Sen. Bob Corker (R) told the press that VW would build a new line of cars at the plant if the vote failed, although the company denied the claim, and State Sen. Bo Watson (R) warned that unionization would imperil state incentives for the company’s expansion.
After the vote failed, the UAW had filed an appeal with the NLRB alleging a “firestorm of interference from politicians and special interest groups” which it said violated the rights of VW workers to have a free election.
But in deciding to drop that appeal on Monday, a press release said UAW President Bob King’s decision was based on “the belief that the NLRB’s historically dysfunctional and complex process potentially could drag on for months or even years” and the fact that Haslam and Corker refused to participate in the legal discovery process. The release also noted that “outdated federal laws governing the NLRB never contemplated the level of extreme intimidation and interference that occurred in Chattanooga” and that even if workers were granted another election, “nothing would stop politicians and anti-union organizations from again interfering.” Instead, the union will push for Congress to look into the incentives offered by the Haslam administration. “Frankly, Congress is a more effective venue for publicly examining the now well-documented threat,” King said.
The union says it will now focus on advocating for the creation of new jobs at the plant, including urging the Haslam administration to extend the incentives to expand immediately and without conditions.
Without a vote to unionize, however, the effort to create a works council faces long odds. VW has said that despite the outcome of the vote, “Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a works council.” But American labor law prohibits the company from setting one up itself, and the union likely won’t set one up without workers joining as members. The company could set up informal groups, but they wouldn’t be able to talk about wages, hours, or working conditions.