Tennessee autoworkers have filed a second set of complaints alleging that Volkswagen’s corporate headquarters pressured employees to join the United Auto Workers Union.
Four autoworkers filed a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board alleging that members of the German-based company’s board of directors threatened to end plant expansion in the right-to-work state if employees did not join a European-style works council.
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The support that corporate leaders are lending to the UAW amounts to coercion, according to the complaint filed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW).
"Bernd Osterloh, vice-chairman of VW and head of VW's global works council, who makes production decisions for VW, said publicly that employees in Chattanooga must form a works council and bring in the UAW as their agent if their plant is going to be given the opportunity to produce additional products for VW," the complaint states.
"Volkswagen AG through their officers, directors, and/or agents are thus interfering with Chattanooga facility employees’ rights to choose whether or not to engage in self-organization to form, join, or assist labor organizations."
VW has been urging the Tennessee plant to form a works council, a collaborative labor group that gives workers a direct line of communication to management regarding work conditions. These councils do not typically involve labor unions, which are more adversarial.
UAW officials hijacked the process in September by convincing workers to sign cards that went beyond the formation of works council. UAW regional director Gary Casteel said on Sept. 12 that a majority of 2,500 workers at VW’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant signed cards endorsing full union organization.
Osterloh is also a member of IG Metall, a German engineering union with close ties to the UAW, in addition to his position as a VW executive. IG Metall pressured VW’s board to form a works council at the start of 2013 and in March lent its support for UAW’s organizing attempts.
NRTW president Mark Mix said that corporate pressure is a two-way street. If companies are not allowed to use tactics like threats to campaign against a union, they should not be able to do so in support of labor groups.
"With reports that Volkswagen is considering Chattanooga to build its new SUV, this is no idle threat," said Mix.
"If VW management was discouraging workers from joining the UAW with threats, there’s little question that an NLRB prosecution would have already begun at the UAW’s behest."
One auto expert found VW’s sudden push for unionization suspicious. The company has been expanding operations in countries that offer far more hazardous work conditions and far less worker protections than American plants—without ever calling for the formation of a works council.
"Volkswagen's expansion plans are focused on China, India, and Russia, three countries where its plants do not operate under works councils," the source said. "That indicates to me that if Chattanooga unionizes it would be unlikely to benefit from future product expansion. So the real loser here wouldn't be Volkswagen, so much as American workers."
VW did not respond to requests for comment.
The four autoworkers are also participating in a separate NLRB complaint against the UAW for using misleading and potentially illegal organizing tactics to gain access to the plant.