UAW Drops Challenge to Vote Lost at Tennessee VW Plant

The United Auto Workers dropped its challenge to a February vote in which Volkswagen AG workers in Tennessee rejected representation, dashing one of labor’s best shots at organizing a foreign-owned car plant in the U.S.

The union abandoned its appeal about an hour before a scheduled National Labor Relations Board hearing. UAW President Bob King said the union decided to avoid a process that could have taken “months or even years” to resolve.

“The UAW is ready to put February’s tainted election in the rearview mirror and instead focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga,” King said in a statement.

Tennessee politicians including U.S. Senator Bob Corker and Governor Bill Haslam, both Republicans, opposed the UAW’s effort, warning that a yes vote would deter other companies from investing in Tennessee. In filings with the NLRB, the UAW said statements by Haslam, Corker and others tainted an election that the company didn’t oppose.

In balloting at the Chattanooga plant that ended Feb. 14, 712 workers opposed being represented by the UAW with 626 voting to join.

The vote was a setback for UAW efforts to organize workers at manufacturing plants in the southern U.S. Volkswagen, based in Wolfsburg, Germany, wanted to introduce a German-style works council at the plant to represent both salaried and blue-collar workers. Under U.S. labor law, that might require an independent union.

Union Objection

“Many have felt the UAW never really wanted another election in the near term because they knew they would lose by an even larger margin,” Corker said in a statement.

The UAW based its objection on a claim that people not affiliated with Volkswagen made it impossible to have a fair election, according to Larry Drapkin, a labor attorney with Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP in Los Angeles. That would have been a tough case to prove, he said.

“The NLRB would have been asked to essentially regulate political speech of politicians who were not acting on behalf of a private sector employer,” Drapkin said in an e-mail. “Under these circumstances the UAW’s objections appeared to be at best, a long shot.”

The election drew in outside groups such as The Center for Worker Freedom, a project of Grover Norquist’s anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform. The group put up 13 billboards in Chattanooga including one that claimed “almost every job lost at U.S. car factories in the last 30 years has occurred at a unionized company.” Another one said: “The UAW spends millions to elect liberal politicians, including Barack Obama.”

Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga, helped negotiate the incentive package that lured Volkswagen to the city. During the three-day vote in February, he predicted that Volkswagen would announce an expansion at the plant within two weeks of workers rejecting the union.

“It’s a shame the UAW slowed the momentum on our expansion conversations with Volkswagen, but now it’s time for VW, our state and our community to re-engage and move forward with bringing additional jobs to Chattanooga,” Corker said.

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