UAW Appeals Historic Loss in Tennessee

Appeals process could drag out union election for years

February 21, 2014

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union asserted in an appeal to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed Friday that Republican public officials and union opponents unfairly influenced workers at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant that rejected the union by a 53-47 percent margin on Feb. 14.

Those groups, the UAW said in its complaint, "conducted what appears to have been a coordinated and widely-publicized coercive campaign, in concert with their staffs and others, to deprive VWGOA workers of their federally-protected right, through the election, to support and select the UAW as their exclusive representative."

Anti-union forces were not the only political actors to get involved in the election.

President Barack Obama voiced his support for the unionization effort and a prominent VW board member, who also represents European labor group IG Metall, threatened to withhold investments to the plant if it did not unionize.

Glenn Taubman, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorney who represented those employees, said that the union was cherry-picking incidents to overthrow the desires of the majority of workers at the plant.

"There’s been a lot of speculation that these outside statements by [Sen. Bob] Corker and Tennessee politicians were threatening and coercive, but the UAW doesn’t care about Obama’s comments or those from company representatives," he said. "It’s clear that the UAW is not going to respect the will of the majority. The UAW is intent on dragging out the process."

The NLRB will be unable to certify the union’s defeat as long as the UAW is filing complaints about the election. Taubman said the complaints could allow the union to drag on the proceedings for months—or years.

"The point of these objections will be to prevent the NLRB from certifying the result of the election," he said. "In the meantime the UAW has a toe in the door to keep pressuring and courting workers."

The UAW challenge alleges that the secret ballot was tainted by negative comments in the press.

"These threats were clearly designed to influence the votes of VWGOA workers in the election and to deprive them of their Section 7 right to vote in an atmosphere free of coercion, intimidation, and interference," the complaint says.

Taubman called the complaint and the election "one of the weirdest" he had seen in his three decades working as a labor attorney.

VW openly supported the union by signing a neutrality agreement which bound it to allowing labor officials to wear T-shirts on grounds, giving them office space, and arranging for union "information sessions." Workers rejected the UAW despite the company’s open support for unionization.

Taubman said the UAW’s challenge flies in the face of the agreement it struck with the company at the outset of the campaign: "The parties shall cooperate to ensure that the Employees shall be able to freely exercise their right to vote in an informed and free manner."

"Only two parties can be involved in these challenges: the union and the company. It makes it very interesting because they are on the same side," Taubman said. "Who is going to represent the workers?"

Neither the UAW, nor the NLRB’s Atlanta regional office, which is handling the complaint, returned request for comment.