NLRB Won't Review Auto Workers Election Win at Volkswagen

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By Michael Rose

April 13 — The NLRB denied Volkswagen Group of America Inc.'s request for review of a representation election in which a group of maintenance workers at the company's Chattanooga, Tenn., plant chose representation by the United Auto Workers.

The unit of maintenance workers didn't share an “overwhelming community of interest” with the larger group of production workers, National Labor Relations Board Members Kent Y. Hirozawa and Lauren McFerran said in a short, unpublished decision.

Volkswagen has argued repeatedly that any bargaining unit at the plant should include both groups. In a closely watched 2014 election including both production and maintenance workers, they rejected UAW representation (32 DLR A-12, 2/18/14).

The decision represents a setback for the German automaker at its only U.S. manufacturing plant, and a potential boost to the UAW's long-running efforts to gain a foothold at Volkswagen and at other nonunion auto plants in the South.

Union membership creates an additional burden for the company and could lay the groundwork for the whole plant—including the production employees—to gain union representation eventually, Arthur Wheaton, a director at the Worker Institute at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told Bloomberg News.

“The biggest concern for companies is a loss—or a perceived loss—of power,” Wheaton said. “From the Volkswagen management perspective, it's another headache or another thing to do when they're really busy. From the workers' perspective it gives them a voice in the product and company.”

Disagreements Over Specialty Healthcare

Member Philip A. Miscimarra dissented from the decision, writing that an NLRB regional director's direction of election “gives rise to substantial issues regarding the potential inappropriateness of the petitioned-for bargaining unit.”

Miscimarra's disagreement with the two other board members stems largely from opposing views on the validity of the standard set out by the board in Specialty Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, 191 LRRM 1137, 357 N.L.R.B. 934 (2011) (169 DLR AA-1, 8/31/11).

In that case, the board found that a party seeking to include a group in a larger bargaining unit must demonstrate that the additional employees it proposes to include share an “overwhelming community of interest.”

An NLRB regional director in November ordered an election among some 160 maintenance workers at the VW plant (222 DLR A-10, 11/18/15).

Election Held in December

Volkswagen requested review of the regional director's order in late December, after the election was conducted (234 DLR A-8, 12/7/15). Some 71 percent of workers voting in the election favored UAW representation, and the NLRB certified the results of the vote (241 DLR A-10, 12/16/15).

The board's denial of VW's request for review comes just over two weeks after the UAW pressed the agency to make a decision on the employer's request (66 DLR A-11, 4/6/16).

The UAW also has filed several unfair labor practice charges against Volkswagen, alleging that the company has illegally refused to bargain with the union (27 DLR A-7, 2/10/16; 245 DLR A-7, 12/22/15). If the company continues to refuse to bargain, the matter eventually could end up before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit or the District of Columbia Circuit.

Election Was ‘Legal and Appropriate.'

“With today’s order, the NLRB has clearly stated that it views the skilled-trades election in Chattanooga as a legal and appropriate step toward meaningful employee representation,” Gary Casteel, a UAW vice president and director of its transnational department, said in a statement.

“We hope Volkswagen’s new management team will accept the government’s decision and refocus on the core values that made it a successful brand—environmental sustainability and meaningful employee representation,” he said.

Mike Cantrell, president of UAW Local 42, which represents workers at the VW plant, said in the union's statement that the UAW will seek to begin bargaining for the maintenance workers “at the earliest possible date.”

At its facilities in other countries, Volkswagen employees take part in “works councils” made up of both front-line workers and managers.

Under federal labor law, workers at the Chattanooga plant would need to be represented by a union for collective bargaining purposes for the company to implement the works council model.

The Chattanooga facility is the only Volkswagen plant that “remains unrepresented on the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, the influential body of employee leaders from around the world,” according to the UAW.

Volkswagen spokesman Scott Wilson told Bloomberg BNA that the company is “reviewing the decision and evaluating our options” but otherwise declined to comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Rose in Washington at mrose@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com