UAW Gives Up in Tennessee

Union ends appeal to overturn February defeat
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 United Auto Workers union (UAW) ended its appeal to overturn a February union election on Monday morning, just before a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hearing on the issue was scheduled to begin.

The union suffered a decisive defeat in its effort to unionize a Chattanooga, Tenn., Volkswagen plant, despite cooperation from the company. UAW officials immediately challenged the 712-626 vote against unionization, claiming that the results were tainted by anti-union politicians and outside groups that gathered support from local workers.

“The UAW is ready to put February’s tainted election in the rearview mirror and instead focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga,” UAW president Bob King said in a statement. “The UAW’s objections informed the public about the unprecedented interference by anti-labor politicians and third parties who want to prevent workers from exercising their democratic right to choose union representation.”

While the union has contended that it was treated unfairly by outside groups, it enjoyed considerable support from VW itself. VW allowed union organizers to set up shop on factory grounds and organizers were granted access to the plant in the weeks leading up to the election. A VW board member also threatened to withdraw funding from the Tennessee plant unless it formed a European-style Works Council under the leadership of the UAW.

VW rejected a petition from employees to allow union opponents to present their case in the weeks leading up to the election. The company later aided in the UAW’s appeal by objecting to giving workers opposed to unionization the opportunity to defend the election results to the NLRB.

The National Right to Work Foundation, which represented several workers challenging the union, celebrated the UAW’s decision to withdraw from the case.

“The UAW did everything they could to silence opposition, first in the election itself and then again to keep workers from defending their vote in the NLRB objection process. Once they realized both sides of the case would be presented at the hearing they withdrew rather than have their allegations disproved,” foundation spokesman Patrick Semmens said. “This is a big win for the workers of Volkswagen.”

The Tennessee battle was a key component to the UAW’s attempt to reverse its decline. The VW plant would have given the union a foothold in southern right-to-work states where car companies have been expanding to avoid the costs of unionization. Some labor watchdogs said that the UAW pulled out of the case in order to avoid another loss that could further deter future workers from joining the union.

“The UAW made a calculation to cut their losses and not risk another vote. If a new election was ordered, the union might feel like the dog who caught the car. Another election loss would be the final blow to the flagging UAW southern strategy,” said Center for Union Facts president Rick Berman. “Employees aren’t buying what unions are selling.”