Updated: UAW leaders file appeal on Volkswagen election citing outside interference

Authored By chloe.morrison

Officials with the United Auto Workers Union have filed an appeal about last week’s decision that the union would not represent local Volkswagen employees. 

“It’s an outrage that politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that would grow jobs in Tennessee,” UAW President Bob King said. “It is extraordinary interference in the private decision of workers to have a U.S. senator, a governor and leaders of the state Legislature threaten the company with the denial of economic incentives and workers with a loss of product.”

The appeal means that officials with the National Labor Relations Board will now investigate conduct during the election and decide whether there is reason to have a new election on the issue. Click here to see the document of the appeal.

Officials announced last week that Volkswagen employees opted against UAW representation with a 712-626 vote. 

Before the vote, Sen. Bob Corker said that workers should vote against representation by the United Auto Workers, and-if they did-company leaders would announce that the new SUV will be built in Chattanooga.  

And in what some took as a threat, Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, who both represent different parts of Hamilton County in the state Legislature, said that having the UAW here would make it difficult for the Legislature to approve incentives for further expansion of the local plant.

According to a news release, the objections detail a coordinated and “widely publicized coercive campaign conducted by politicians and outside organizations to deprive Volkswagen workers of their federally protected right to join a union.”

UAW officials said politicians threatened the area’s economic future three days before the vote.

Several different leaders-including Corker, Gov. Bill Haslam and local economic leaders-have said that a vote in favor of the UAW would prevent suppliers from locating in the area.

And, days before the election, Corker said that Volkswagen workers should vote against representation by the United Auto Workers, and-if they did-company leaders would announce that the new SUV will be built in Chattanooga.

CEO of Volkswagen AG Dr. Martin Winterkorn confirmed recently at the Detroit Auto Show that the auto manufacturer will make an SUV for the American market, but he didn’t say where the new product would be made.

Bloomberg and Reuters recently reported that the SUV would likely be made in Chattanooga, but that has not been confirmed, and there has been a lot of speculation on this issue in recent months.

Corker helped broker the deal to bring Volkswagen to Chattanooga and said that he had conversations that made him think that a vote against the UAW meant the SUV would come to Chattanooga.

Click here to read more about what Corker said then.

Corker said Friday afternoon in a prepared statement that he’s disappointed that UAW leaders are ignoring the workers’ decision.

“Unfortunately, I have to assume that today’s action may slow down Volkswagen’s final discussions on the new SUV line,” he also said. “This complaint affirms the point many of us have been making: that the UAW is only interested in its own survival and not the interests of the great employees at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen facility nor the company for which they work.”

After last week’s vote, King said that it could have been politicians’ comments that turned the election away from the union’s favor.

Some VW employees agree, according to the UAW.

“It’s essentially saying, ‘If you unionize, it’s going to hurt your economy. Why? Because I’m going to make sure it does,'” Volkswagen worker Lauren Feinauer said, according to a news release. “I hope people see it for the underhanded threat that it is.”

But leaders with the National Right to Work Legal Foundation-who helped some VW employees file charges against VW and the UAW-said that union leaders had two years to “stack the deck.”

“Now, UAW Union officials are blaming everyone but themselves for swaying the vote against the union, while neglecting the fact that members of VW Germany management threatened workers to unionize or miss out on more work,” Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said in a prepared statement.

Some VW leaders in Germany, such as Bernd Osterloh, who is the Volkswagen AG General and Group Works Council chairman, have been supportive of the UAW’s organization because it was a means to a works council.

The works council is a 20-member group that has an even division of labor and management representatives. They have to approve decisions about where to locate new plants.

The night of the election announcement, Volkswagen Chattanooga President Frank Fischer said that the decision wasn’t a vote against a works council.

And Gunnar Kilian, secretary-general of VW’s works council, told Reuters and The New York Times that he plans to come to the United States within the next two weeks to consult labor law experts and figure out the next steps toward reaching his goal of establishing a works council here.

Click here to read more about the works council and possible next steps.

It’s unclear how a works council would work in the United States because U.S. labor law doesn’t allow for internal union representation.

“In the past, the NLRB has refused to uphold employer objections to unionization elections in which politicians acting at the behest of the UAW seemingly swayed the vote’s outcome in favor of the union,” Mix said. “Foundation staff attorneys plan to exercise every legal option for workers who support the election’s result because they are concerned that Volkswagen will not actively defend the employees’ vote.”

Volkswagen officials had no comment Friday afternoon on the appeal. 

Volkswagen employee Chuck Luttrell, who wasn’t in favor of union representation, said via text Friday afternoon, “What part of ‘no thanks’ do they not get?” 

Updated @ 4:25 p.m. on 2/21/14 to add more information.