Volkswagen Gets NLRB to Throw Legal Delay into New UAW Organizing Drive at Chattanooga

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Even as Volkswagen keeps saying it’s officially neutral, its bosses convinced the National Labor Relations Board to throw a legal delay into the United Auto Workers’ new organizing drive at its Chattanooga, Tenn., plant.

In response, the union has dropped the labor law-breaking – formally called unfair labor practices – charges it filed against VW in an ongoing dispute over whether the company must recognize UAW’s recognition win by Local 42 in the small unit of 160 unionized VW skilled trades workers there.

That withdrawal knocks the props out from under the company’s maneuver, opening the way for a vote among all 1,700 Chattanooga workers, the union told the NLRB on May 9. The board, now dominated by Trump-named members, however, has yet to agree.

On May 3, by a 2-1 party-line vote, the NLRB sided with VW and delayed the vote.

The legal maneuvering marks UAW’s second attempt to organize all the Chattanooga workers in one of only two VW non-union plants worldwide. The other is in China.

UAW’s campaign to unionize Chattanooga, and a similar effort at Nissan’s plant in Mississippi, is part of the union’s drive to break through into foreign “transplant” auto factories in the traditionally and culturally union-hostile South.

In turn, the UAW drive is also part of organized labor’s wider focus on organizing the unorganized in the growing, but anti-union, region. Tennessee was 5.1% unionized and Tennessee was 5.5% unionized last year, federal calculations show.

Both U.S. and foreign automakers have been erecting plants in states of the old Confederacy in barely concealed gambits to avoid unions. And when UAW and other unions try to organize such plants, bosses play off white workers against their African-American colleagues in a time-tested “divide and conquer” campaign.

UAW’s first drive to unionize the whole Chattanooga plant ended in a narrow election loss on Valentine’s Day, 2014, after a multi-million-dollar campaign by right-wing outside lobbies, designed to threaten the workers. News reports indicate the right-wingers are cranking up a rerun.

That anti-union drive was aided and abetted by GOP politicians, including former Gov. Phil Bredesen and then-Sen. Bob Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor. Bredesen and the GOP state legislative majority threatened that if the Chattanooga workers went union, the state would yank planned subsidies and tax breaks for expanding the plant.  The threats worked.

“Let Chattanooga workers vote,” UAW declared in a statement after the NLRB-imposed delay in the election, which was originally scheduled for the end of April. “After insisting for the last four years that they would only agree to a vote of all production and maintenance workers, Volkswagen has now blocked just such a vote. VW’s manipulation of the NLRB process to halt a vote of its workers is a travesty.”

“Free, democratic elections are a cornerstone of American life, whether it’s the PTA or president of the United States. After all these years, why in the world is it OK to deny Chattanooga workers their vote of yes or no?” UAW called VW’s demand for a delay “the definition of duplicity.”

“Chattanooga workers have a simple message to the politicians and political appointees in Washington D.C. and the Volkswagen corporate brass – Let us vote!”

The union also took its campaign overseas again, to VW’s headquarters in Germany. German law requires worker representation on company boards, including VW’s. It uses tough penalties to enforce its labor law and against anti-union firms.

This time, UAW decided to use moral weight too, as union President Gary Jones and other top leaders met with German Catholic Cardinal Reinhard Marx and his staff about the contrast in company conduct towards workers and unions between Germany and the U.S.

Once again, the union said, it was the workers, upset by erratic scheduling and variable work rules, who began the latest organizing drive.

"This was a decision made by the Chattanooga workers," UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, whose staff is unionized with the News Guild. “The members have taken it into their own hands.” Added Local 42 President Steve Cochran: "It's going to be res-pect and consistency. That’s the two big things we want. It's not about money. It's not about greed.'’

The local, by the way, is heavily African-American, as is the Chattanooga plant’s workforce, so its number, 42, honors the late Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier. 42 was Robinson’s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

An Invitation to Sunny Miami. What Could Be Bad?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

If a billionaire “invites” you somewhere, you’d better go. Or be prepared to suffer the consequences. This past May, hedge fund kingpin Carl Icahn announced in a letter to his New York-based staff of about 50 that he would be moving his business operations to Florida. But the 83-year-old Icahn assured his staffers they had no reason to worry: “My employees have always been very important to the company, so I’d like to invite you all to join me in Miami.” Those who go south, his letter added, would get a $50,000 relocation benefit “once you have established your permanent residence in Florida.” Those who stay put, the letter continued, can file for state unemployment benefits, a $450 weekly maximum that “you can receive for a total of 26 weeks.” What about severance from Icahn Enterprises? The New York Post reported last week that the two dozen employees who have chosen not to uproot their families and follow Icahn to Florida “will be let go without any severance” when the billionaire shutters his New York offices this coming March. Bloomberg currently puts Carl Icahn’s net worth at $20.5 billion.

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