By on May 15, 2017

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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the UAW’s collective-bargaining rights for the select workers who maintain the plant’s automated machinery can’t be superseded by the federal appeals court case.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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8 Comments on “Volkswagen Accused of Unfair Labor Practices at Tennessee Plant...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This sub-group is complaining about having its hours cut to 8 (presumably this cuts their pay accordingly), but if their hours were extended to 12 they’d complain about being treated as slaves.

  • avatar

    Management might be able to change shift rotations as long as work hours remain the same. In the past I worked extended 12 hour shifts but it was a 4 on – 5 off pattern. It yielded similar hours as an 8 hour/day 5 days/week pattern. The only thing that made it more lucrative were evening, night shift and weekend shift premiums.

  • avatar

    Some years from now we’ll be reading about which company will be buying the shuttered VW plant in TN.

    • 0 avatar

      Haha.. well we know it probably won’t turn in to a TV factory like the Westmoreland PA plant did when they shuttered that disaster. Man did VW turn out some garbage there. Of course it was the malaise era and everything pretty much sucked, but the VW suckage was especially egregious.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        A friend of mine used to work there in Quality. He said they started every Monday morning with screaming matches.

        He hated it so much that he said he would look for just the right tree he could hit on the way home – which would disable him but not kill him – so he wouldn’t have to go back.

        The subsequent Sony plant folded almost instantly when flat screen TVs came out. Now the plant is being subdivided for use by various (smaller) businesses, and already has several tenants – a wise move.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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