One week after losing a bid to organize workers at a Chattanooga, Tenn., Volkswagen factory, the United Auto Workers called on the National Labor Relations Board to void the election results and order a new one.
In a filing Friday afternoon with the federal labor law enforcement agency, the UAW said the election was tainted by interference from state Republicans lawmakers, particularly U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. The Republicans had warned the employees that voting for a union was not in their best interests or the factory's.
UAW lost the election Feb. 14, when a final tally showed employees voted 712-626 against collective bargaining. The tally also showed 89 percent of eligible workers turned out for the three-day vote.
The result surprised many since the union's bid had VW's tacit backing. The German company allowed union organizers inside the factory to lobby workers while barring anti-union groups. It even indicated that unionization was necessary to expand production.
In its filing, the UAW stated that the Republicans "conducted what appears to have been a coordinated and widely-publicized coercive campaign, in concert with their staffs and others, to deprive (Volkswagen) workers of their federally-protected right, through the Election, to support and select the UAW as their exclusive representative."
The complaint was widely expected given the contentious nature of the election and the closeness of the vote. A spokesman for the NLRB could not be reached for comment.
The filing is unusual in that it asks the NLRB to void an election based not on interference from management but from third parties who were not directly involved in the vote. That is a higher bar for the complaint to clear, although the NLRB currently has a pro-union, Democratic majority. Last month, board lawyers called for the dismissal of a fraud complaint against UAW related to its Chattanooga effort.
Ironically, UAW had publicly opposed the workers having a vote in the first place. It had wanted VW to unionize the plant based on its claim that a majority of workers signed cards saying they wanted UAW representation.
King told Reuters in September: "An election process is more divisive. I don't think that's in Volkswagen's best interests. I don't think that's in the best interests of Tennessee ... If they want to ... recognize us based on majority, I think that is the quickest, most effective way."
The UAW complaint alleged that comments by top Tennessee Republicans went beyond simple criticism and amounted to "extraordinary interference" in the election. The elected officials had warned that, if unionized, the factory would run the risk of losing legislative support for state financial incentives.
The union also claimed that comments by Corker were "intended to coerce employees to vote against UAW." Corker had issued a press release last week claiming that, based on private conversations he had had with VW officials, the company would expand the plant to include a new SUV line if workers did not unionize.
That ran contrary to prior indications from VW officials, who denied having had such conversations with Corker. The senator stood by his comments.
Corker said the UAW complaint showed that the union was interested only "in its own survival" and nothing else: "The workers at Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant spoke very clearly last week, so we are disappointed the UAW is ignoring their decision and has filed this objection."
Mark Mix, president of the National Right To Work Foundation, which helped organize the anti-UAW vote, said the union leaders were "blaming everyone but themselves" for the defeat. He noted that in addition to VW's cooperation, the company's German union, IG Metall, also aided the UAW's bid. President Obama even explicitly endorsed it.
"Obviously, the UAW's complaints about 'outside influences' only apply to those that oppose the UAW," Mix said.