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Policy: Labor

UAW abandons effort to overturn loss at Chattanooga Volkswagen plant

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Tennessee,NLRB,Bob Corker,Volkswagen,Chattanooga,UAW

In an abrupt turnabout, the United Auto Workers on Monday officially dropped their attempt to get the federal government to order a new organizing election at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The union said that it was stymied by the refusal of state Republican officials to testify at a hearing before the National Labor Relations Board.

The union also conceded that even if the NLRB had agreed to its complaint and ordered at new election at the VW facility, it ran a serious risk of getting a second rejection from the workers.

"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," said Bob King, the union's president. A regional hearing on the case was set for Monday morning, but UAW instead officially notified the NLRB it was withdrawing its complaint.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, expressed relief that the controversy was over: "The employees have made their decision. The UAW lost the election. Now the best thing for all concerned is to get back to building cars."

His colleague, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the reversal was proof that the entire complaint to the NLRB was a "sideshow to draw attention away from their stinging loss in Chattanooga."

Corker added: "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."

The union lost a high-profile bid to represent the VW plant's workers when they voted 712-626 in February against collective bargaining. The result was a surprise because company management, under pressure from its German union, IG Metall, had tacitly supported the union's organizing bid.

UAW blamed the loss on anti-union comments from Tennessee Republican officials, claiming in a complaint to the NLRB that they "tainted" the election. During the three-day election, Corker said -- citing unnamed inside sources -- that VW would expand production at the plant if the workers rejected a union. That contradicted prior comments by VW officials.

Also cited in UAW's complaint were comments by Gov. Bill Haslam and other Republican officials that unionizing the plant could jeopardize its eligibility for state business incentives. After the election, the aid figure was revealed to be $300 million.

"The unprecedented political interference by Gov. Haslam, Sen. Corker and others was a distraction for Volkswagen employees and a detour from achieving Tennessee’s economic priorities," King said.

Corker, Haslam and other state Republican officials, as well as Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, had all been subpoenaed by the UAW as part of its NLRB complaint. Corker and Haslam refused to comply.

The case was unusual from the start since it alleged interference by a third party not directly involved the union election. Most NLRB complaints involve allegations of unfair practices by management or a union. That put it on uncertain legal territory from the start. Corker had said that overturning the election based on his comments would have had a chilling effect on the ability of lawmakers to comment on union-related issues.

There were other reasons why workers might have rejected the union. UAW leaders had signed a pre-election "neutrality agreement" with Volkswagen management that any future contract would not damage the plant's "cost advantages and other competitive advantages." Many workers reportedly took this as a sign that the union would not strongly represent them.

Indeed, in the Monday press release, UAW conceded that its chances of winning a second election were not certain as long as outside parties were still able to make the case against it: "[F]ederal laws governing the NLRB never contemplated the level of extreme intimidation and interference that occurred in Chattanooga. Even if the NLRB ordered a new election — the board’s only available remedy under current law — nothing would stop politicians and anti-union organizations from again interfering."

Ironically, the UAW had initially opposed allowing the plant's workers to have a secret ballot election on unionizing, insisting instead that Volkswagen recognize its claim that it got a majority of workers to back the union through the "Card Check" process.

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