UAW Continues Unionization Efforts at Volkswagen Plant in Tennessee

Union had agreed to cease organization efforts for one year
Workers assemble Volkswagen Passat sedans at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. / AP

Workers assemble Volkswagen Passat sedans at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. / AP

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The UAW broke its pledge to cease organizing activity at the Chattanooga auto plant that rejected unionization, announcing on Thursday afternoon that it would form a voluntary union for factory workers.

Workers at the Tennessee Volkswagen plant rejected the labor giant’s bid to form the first auto union in the right to work state in February. The union signed a neutrality agreement with the German auto manufacturer that gave organizers an advantage during its campaign.

However, that agreement also contained a provision barring the union from any organizing activity for one year following the vote.

The union decided to break that pledge on Thursday, announcing the formation of a new local that would allow workers to join voluntarily.

“Earlier this year, the UAW was gratified to earn the confidence and support of many Volkswagen team members,” said Dennis Williams, president of the UAW. “At that time, we said we would not give up on these committed and hard-working employees. We’re keeping our promise.”

Labor experts told the Washington Free Beacon that the union is unlikely to face any consequences for breaking the agreement. It is up to the company to uphold such provisions. VW has supported the UAW’s efforts throughout the process and company board members have even threatened to withhold investment in the plant unless its workers unionized.

“VW has shown no interest in enforcing the neutrality agreement,” said Trey Kovaks, a labor policy expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “The worker has no say.”

VW did not return requests for comment, though a company spokesman told local news site Nooga.com that the company had “no contract or other formal agreement with UAW on this matter” hours before the announcement.

Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer who spearheaded the original unionization campaign, said in a press release that the union has been in contact with the company about the formation of the voluntary union.

“We’ve had ongoing discussions with Volkswagen and have arrived at a consensus with the company,” Casteel said. “Upon Local 42 signing up a meaningful portion of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga workforce, we’re confident the company will recognize Local 42 by dealing with it as a members’ union that represents those employees who join the local.”

The formation of the voluntary unit is “unprecedented,” according to Kovaks, and a reversal of the union “gameplan to have exclusive representation powers” in order to collect dues from all plant workers. Kovaks said that the formation of the voluntary unit could allow for backdoor unionization at the plant even if UAW “doesn’t have any power to negotiate a contract [with VW] now.”

The union could use the voluntary local to force all of the plant’s workers into the union.

“All they’re trying to do is restart the card check campaign to get as many VW workers to sign cards for the voluntary unit in the hopes of getting fifty-percent-plus-one and then VW will voluntarily recognize them as the exclusive bargaining agent,” Kovaks said. “It’s just a way to game workers into giving unionization for entire plant.”