A Tennessee Volkswagen manufacturing plant will hold a historic secret ballot election later this month to determine whether workers in the right-to-work state will join the Detroit-based United Auto Workers (UAW) union.
Workers will begin voting in a secret ballot election beginning on Feb. 12. Labor watchdog groups celebrated the decision to hold a traditional organizing vote, rather than the card check campaign that the UAW attempted to invoke in late 2013.
"These workers have just been asking for a fair process and I think that the secret ballot gives this process a little more legitimacy," National Right to Work Foundation spokesman Anthony Riedel said.
VW, a German company, approached the Tennessee manufacturing plant in September, hinting that the company may withhold additional investments if it did not establish a European-model works council to represent employee interests.
UAW organizers, who had worked for years to organize Tennessee plants using traditional union tactics, launched a campaign to become the official works council representative for the worker. Within two weeks local UAW officials said that the union attained majority support from the Chattanooga plant’s 2,500 workers using a card check campaign.
However, those claims came under intense scrutiny from lawyers representing employees opposed to the union and prompted complaints to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Union officials are also celebrating the election, which will be certified by the NLRB. UAW President Bob King said that the election represented a victory for labor groups, which have had a hard time organizing in right-to-work states like Tennessee.
"The UAW seeks to partner with VWGOA and a works council to set a new standard in the U.S. for innovative labor-management relations that benefits the company, the entire workforce, shareholders and the community," King said in a statement. "The historic success of the works council model is in line with the UAW’s successful partnerships with the domestic automakers and its vision of the 21st century union."
The announcement followed a months-long battle between union organizers and employees opposed to card check unionization. The National Right to Work Foundation’s legal team filed several complaints from employees who said they were deceived into signing cards authorizing union representation. The regional NLRB did not pursue the charges, but Riedel said that the legal team’s quick response may have influenced the union to accept a secret ballot election.
"They definitely moved the needle because this originally seemed like card check campaign," he said. "I think the charges and this whole [legal] battle gave workers a chance for a fair secret ballot election."
Watchdogs continue to keep an eye on the campaign. The company declined worker requests on Friday to allow union opponents to provide information to workers about perceived disadvantages of union membership, despite the fact that union officials have been granted such opportunities.
"Volkswagen workers opposed to UAW representation have been shut down by management in a blatant attempt to grease the union’s move into the company," Center for Worker Freedom Executive Director Matt Patterson said of the company’s decision
A petition endorsed by 600 workers once again requested equal campaign time on Monday, according to a letter obtained by Nooga.com.
"Volkswagen team members are entitled to be provided with all available information concerning their options, as well as the potential implications of those choices," VW employee Mike Burton said in the letter. "We are simply asking that the team members be provided with information to assist them in making an informed decision."
Voting is scheduled to take place between Feb. 12 and Feb. 14.