VW objects to UAW vote by 1 group of workers in Tennessee

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Volkswagen on Monday objected to a request from a small group of maintenance workers at its lone U.S. assembly plant to hold a vote on representation by the United Auto Workers union. The German automaker is instead calling for a full vote by all maintenance and production employees at the plant.

"We believe that the maintenance-only unit requested in the petition is not consistent with our One Team approach at Volkswagen Chattanooga," the company said in a statement to the National Labor Relations Board.

The board is holding a hearing on the maintenance workers' request on Tuesday in Chattanooga. A UAW spokesman declined to comment on Volkswagen's statement.

The full contingent of eligible workers at the plant voted against joining the UAW 712-626 last year after an acrimonious campaign in which Republican politicians and anti-labor groups lobbied heavily against the UAW gaining a foothold at the plant. The union has been thwarted for decades in its efforts to represent workers at foreign-owned auto plants in the South.

After losing that vote, the UAW formed Local 42 in Chattanooga to work toward representing all blue-collar workers at the plant. The chapter is recognized under a labor policy VW created at the plant, but has no collective- bargaining rights. Last month, the maintenance workers, classified by VW as "skilled trades" employees, sought and won permission to ask for a vote on official UAW recognition.

"Volkswagen's policy in Chattanooga was a gesture, and our local union has engaged accordingly," Gary Casteel, the secretary-treasurer of the UAW, said that the time. "At the end of the day, the policy cannot be a substitute for meaningful employee representation and co-determination with management."

Union officials insist that the renewed collective-bargaining push is unrelated to VW's diesel emissions cheating scandal that has caused major management turnover at the world's largest automaker.

Volkswagen has been heavily criticized by some GOP politicians in the state for not taking a stronger position against previous unionization efforts at the plant.

But managers at the Chattanooga facility did speak out against the special vote for maintenance workers in a "special communication" to the plant workers last week.

"The company finds the timing of this development unfortunate, given the challenges we are facing as a plant, brand and group," said the memo signed by plant CEO Christian Koch and human resources chief Sebastian Patta. They said that unlike in the previous vote, no pre-election agreement has been struck between the parties.