Volkswagen Accused of Unfair Labor Practices at Tennessee Plant

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
volkswagen accused of unfair labor practices at tennessee plant

The National Labor Relations Board has again accused Volkswagen of unfair labor practices, stating the automaker increased health insurance premiums and altered working hours of employees who voted for union representation at its Chattanooga, Tennessee factory.

The facility — VW’s only U.S. assembly plant — produces the Passat and new Atlas SUV. A small portion of skilled-trade employees voted in 2015 to be represented by the United Auto Workers, but VW is claiming they shouldn’t speak for the entire workforce.

However, the NLRB says the UAW’s collective-bargaining rights for the select workers who maintain the plant’s automated machinery can’t be superseded by the federal appeals court case.

“Wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment of the Unit … are mandatory subjects for the purposes of collective bargaining,” reads the complaint.

UAW Local 42 President Steve Cochran alleges Volkswagen made the change of having skilled-trades employees assume eight-hour shifts instead of the previous twelve without any consultation.

“If they don’t need us to work 12-hour shifts, well that’s great. Let’s sit down and bargain about it,” Cochran said. “We’ll work something out that’s best for the company and for the workers.”

Volkswagen addressed the matter through plant spokesman Scott Wilson.

“We fundamentally disagree with the decision to separate Volkswagen maintenance and production workers and will continue our effort to allow everyone to vote as one group on the matter of union representation,” Wilson said in an email. “Until the court makes a decision on this matter, we are unable to bargain with the UAW without compromising our legal argument.”

VW’s refusal to bargain remains in direct opposition to the NLRB’s assertion that the 160 represented maintenance workers share a community of interests with the rest of the assembly plant employees. Its preference is to establish a German-style works council that would represent both salaried and hourly employees. However, this requires the involvement of an independent union under U.S. law.

The UAW has never managed to win an organizing vote in any foreign-owned auto assembly plant in the the Southern United Sates. It’s clearly desperate for a victory here, even a small one, if it helps reinforce its might. Currently, the U.S. employees are the only VW factory workers not covered by formal labor agreements.

Steven Bernstein, a Tampa-based labor attorney at Fisher Phillips LLP, explained to Reuters the NLRB complaint will likely be followed by others in a legal process that could take several years to conclude. “VW is rolling the dice and betting they will eventually get relief through the courts,” he said.

Volkswagen doesn’t have much to gain by bending to the UAW. Even if the courts force the company to compensate the skilled workers in Chattanooga, it could postpone playing ball for several years and defer any growth in union strength.

VW has until May 24th to issue a formal response to the complaint.

[Image: Volkswagen Group]

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3 of 8 comments
  • Rod Panhard Rod Panhard on May 16, 2017

    VW's labor management activities in Tennessee remind me of other things that appear in the news. Regardless of what they do, it won't be "enough," or it will be "the wrong thing to do." It's a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. It's the classic "Your troubles with the UAW will miraculously go away once you let them organize your plant." Anyway, VW has much bigger fish to fry right now.

  • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on May 16, 2017

    UAW should focus on the bigger problem- all the folks working on contract, basically absolving the automakers of all liability. They take that freedom to turn up the wick on expectations, throwing safety out the window. People are dying and getting seriously hurt as a result, often for no reason other than a lack of safety training. But UAW cares about dues and bargaining power, not workers.

    • Redmondjp Redmondjp on May 16, 2017

      Bingo. The union's only goal is to get more dues-paying members.

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