UAW Campaigning Again to Unionize Tenn. VW Plant

Despite agreement to wait one year following defeat, unionization campaign appears to be underway

July 14, 2014

The UAW began campaigning to unionize a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant just five months after suffering a devastating defeat, according to a union critic who works at the plant.

Mike Burton, 57, said that UAW union organizers and employees supportive of their efforts have already begun distributing materials in workspaces and approaching employees about joining the union. The UAW announced the formation of a local voluntary union on Thursday, despite the fact that it agreed not to engage in any organization activity for at least one year after its defeat.

"They're hurting themselves because we're only halfway through the period of staying out of the plant," said Burton, who works in the factory’s paint inspection shop. "Employees have already been approached, on company time, to sign a card and union materials are appearing in work areas."

Burton, who runs the website, said a copy of the March-April issue of UAW’s Solidarity Magazine turned up in the paint shop of the factory on Friday and that he’d already heard reports of multiple union supporters cornering other employees.

"This year was to be a recovery period after the election and they came back with a knife and divided us yet again," he said. "The reason we had a majority vote against the UAW is because we were effectively informed."

Burton counts himself among the 712 employees who rejected the labor giant’s bid to turn the Tennessee plant into the first auto union shop formed in a right to work state. The outcome surprised many outside observers, as VW supported the union throughout the process, and one company board member threatened to withhold investments into the plant if it did not accept the union.

However, Burton said that workers saw through the multi-year campaign from labor organizers.

"There could be some good locals, but a large portion of dues goes to the strike fund. A fund that is regularly dipped into for their operating and recruiting expenses. Who would want to be affiliated with leadership like that?" he said. "We want an organization that would represent us, but it's clear they were already on board with management."

VW signed a neutrality agreement with the union in the run-up to the February election. The company pledged not to take sides in campaign. However, Burton said the company was not exactly neutral during the fight.

Union officials were granted office space in the plant and they were able to network in the company cafeteria during lunch hours. Union opponents were denied equal access to the plant. That agreement also included a provision that barred the union from organizing activity for at least one year at the plant.

The company has not given any indication that it plans on enforcing the agreement.

"Just like anywhere else in the world, the establishment of a local organization is a matter for the trade union concerned. There is no contract or other formal agreement with UAW on this matter," VW spokesman Scott Wilson told the Washington Free Beacon.

The union has expressed optimism that it can convince a majority of the plant employees to unionize, which would enable it to conduct a card election and force all of the plant’s workers, including the opponents, into union ranks.

"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," UAW treasurer Gary Casteel, who spearheaded the VW election effort, said in a Thursday press release.

VW’s decision to allow the union to violate the neutrality agreement puzzled Burton.

He has worked at the plant for more than three years after spending his career training college professors in communications. He came to the plant because it offered great pay, two 401(k)s, health and dental insurance, as well as discounted lease rates for workers.

"I am grateful to VW for the opportunity to earn a living through the great wages and benefits," Burton said. "My loyalty goes deep, but now I have my eyebrows raised in disbelief that VW appears to be wanting to get into bed with the UAW."

He said he expects employees to see through the renewed efforts to unionize the plant.

"The looming cloud is this overwhelming desire from management to join the UAW … VW wants the union anyway they can get it," Burton said. "They're doing the exact same thing as before: trying to collect cards, so they can bring us all into the union."

Published under: UAW