Southern Momentum, Tennessee VW Workers Opposed To Unionizing, Says It's Underdog As UAW Pushes To Represent Them And Their Peers

on February 13 2014 2:48 PM
Volkswagen emblems (European auto market)
Emblems of the Volkswagen Golf VII in a plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. Reuters

UPDATE, Feb. 14, 10 p.m.: Factory workers have voted against union representation at Volkswagen AG’s sole U.S. manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. Results annouced late Friday: 712 against unionization and 626 in favor.

Original story begins here:

When a union tries to gain entry into a workplace, typically the company is the adversary that tries whatever it can to make sure its employees side with it against organized labor efforts.

But in this week’s vote on whether workers at Volkswagen AG’s sole U.S. manufacturing plant, a Chattanooga, Tenn., facility where the Passat sedan is made for the North American market, the company is neutral at best, if not actually in support of the United Auto Workers becoming the workers' representatives.

It’s an unusual situation that anti-union employees at companies targeted for labor union actions don’t typically face: a company that isn’t on their side.

Under National Labor Relations Board rules, the UAW has been allowed access to the Volkswagen plant and to lists of its workers in order to distribute cards that workers sign if they support unionization. If a majority of workers sign the cards, a union is typically allowed to represent them, and to collect fees that finance its operations.

The logic of forcing companies to provide this access is that if workers are voting to unionize, the company can influence the constituency ahead of the vote in order to build up enough opposition to prevent union representation. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT), for example, makes no bones about its opposition to unionizing its employees and regularly reminds its mangers of that, as this leaked Wal-Mart managers’ training document shows. (The world’s largest retailer is also currently facing an NRLB complaint, which says the company “unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated” about 60 employees in 14 states for engaging in strikes or protests over wages and working conditions.)

But in Chattanooga, Volkswagen doesn’t appear to be an adversary of the UAW. Indeed, the Washington Post said Thursday the company is “campaigning for the UAW,” while Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a former Chattanooga mayor, issued a statement late Wednesday suggesting Volkswagen would reward workers for voting against the UAW with a new vehicle to produce for the North American market. Volkswagen bluntly denied this claim on Thursday morning. Considering that Volkswagen has already agreed to the UAW’s election principles, an unusual move by a company facing the prospect of union representation in the U.S., if Volkswagen opposes the UAW’s efforts then it’s betting that a majority of its plant employees will as well.

Volkswagen’s apparently ambiguous stance is unusual. Rather than the company playing the role of anti-union incumbent, like Wal-Mart, the automaker's ostensibly neutral stance is a disadvantage to workers who oppose unionization because it means the UAW has had an edge in trying to convince workers to vote for representation.

“That’s what’s been a little frustrating for our group,” Maury Nicely, who represents Southern Momentum, a group of workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant who oppose efforts to unionize the plant, told International Business Times. “The UAW has been granted access to the property [in the runup to this week’s vote]. This really placed us at a disadvantage in getting our message across.”

Nicely, a Chattanooga-based lawyer for Evans Harrison Hackett PLC, says opponents of the union movement inside the factory have been on their own on an uneven playing field against UAW efforts.

Meanwhile, it appears the weather in Chattanooga, which threatened to hamper voting efforts at the factory, cleared up by midday Thursday.

“They delayed production at the plant this morning,” he said by phone. “It’s not a big deal right now. There’s talk among the workers about whether they might extend the voting for another day.”

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