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By Ben Penn
Feb. 21 --The United Auto Workers filed objections with the National Labor Relations Board Feb. 21, alleging coercive third-party interference with the unsuccessful Feb. 12-14 representation election at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant (Volkswagen Grp. of Am. Inc., NLRB, No. 10-RM-121704, objections filed 2/21/14).
In the weeks leading up to the election, Tennessee politicians and private groups repeatedly threatened the “diminishment of job security if the workers vote for the union” until their message “was known to every potential voter in this extremely high visibility campaign,” the UAW wrote. It urged the NLRB to set aside the results and conduct another secret-ballot election.
The board reported a 712-626 vote against union representation, with 89 percent of eligible workers participating . The UAW filed the objections hours before the NLRB's midnight deadline.
The union had entered into a neutrality agreement with the Germany-based Volkswagen, which wants to establish the first European-style works council in the U.S., in Chattanooga .
Citing Westwood Horizons Hotel, 270 N.L.R.B. 802, 116 LRRM 1152 (1984), the UAW said the NLRB must “set aside an election based on third-party misconduct when the misconduct created 'a general atmosphere of fear or reprisal rendering a free election impossible.' ”
The warnings to autoworkers that their plant would be denied state incentives if they voted for union representation were particularly influential, the union charged. The threats were “made by powerful political leaders who, in fact and in the reasonable perception of the employees, were quite capable of putting their threat into effect,” the UAW said.
National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix countered the union's objections by claiming that the Chattanooga workers were also subjected to outside influence encouraging them to favor union representation.
The UAW is “blaming everyone but themselves for swaying the vote against the union, while neglecting the fact that members of VW Germany management threatened workers to unionize or miss out on more work,” Mix said in a Feb. 21 statement. “Even President Obama weighed in with support for unionization.”
NRTWF attorneys, who during the organizing drive offered free legal aid for VW workers who felt pressured to join the union, plan to “exercise every legal option for workers who support the election's result, because they are concerned that Volkswagen will not actively defend the employees' vote,” the foundation said.
A representative for Volkswagen declined to comment Feb. 21.
The NLRB has received the objections, which were hand-delivered to its Atlanta regional office, and will now allow the UAW seven days to submit evidence before an investigation can begin, Gregory King, spokesman for the NLRB, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 21.
In its objections, the UAW outlined five types of outside interference it said affected the election results.
First, the union cited “what appears to have been a coordinated and widely-publicized campaign” to deprive VW “workers of their federally-protected right, through the election, to support and select the UAW as their exclusive representative under Section 9(a) of the National Labor Relations Act, free of coercion, intimidation, threats and interference.”
That alleged campaign was launched by Gov. Bill Haslam (R); state House Republican leaders Beth Harwell, Gerald McCormick and Bo Watson; and state Senate Republican leaders Jack Johnson and Mark Green, the union said.
The politicians widely disseminated threats that state tax incentives and other financial benefits would be withheld from Volkswagen and its workers if they selected UAW representation, the document charged.
This was an intentional effort to deny workers their “Section 7 right to vote in an atmosphere free of coercion, intimidation and interference,” the UAW wrote.
The threats were then spread to workers via “broadcast, print and social media, including on various campaign websites managed and paid for by business-supported and other groups,” the objections stated. Consequently, the union said, the state officials' threats were constantly on the minds of VW employees in the days leading up to and during the election.
Secondly, the objections cited the creation on Feb. 10 of a new Tennessee corporation called Southern Momentum, backed by Chattanooga management attorney Maurice Nicely, which purported to represent VW workers. Via published media accounts of interviews with Nicely, the organization proceeded to repeat the claims made by the Tennessee politicians about withholding essential state incentives, the UAW alleged.
Southern Momentum then published the state officials' threats in a website posting that included the banner headline, “VW May Lose State Help if the UAW is Voted in at the Chattanooga Plant,” the union stated in describing a third type of outside interference it saw.
Addressing a fourth type of interference, the UAW focused on the actions of Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who the union alleges “escalated the campaign threats” on Feb. 12, the first day of the election.
Corker, the objections stated, promised the Chattanooga plant's employees that if they voted against the UAW, they “would be rewarded with a new product line.”
The UAW quoted from a news conference in which Corker said, “I've had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga.”
Corker's conduct “standing alone” provides a “more than adequate basis for sustaining these objections,” the UAW told the NLRB.
In a Feb. 21 response to the UAW objections, Corker continued to mention the coveted SUV line. “The workers at Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant spoke very clearly last week, so we are disappointed the UAW is ignoring their decision and has filed this objection,” the senator said. “Unfortunately, I have to assume that today's action may slow down Volkswagen's final discussions on the new SUV line.”
Finally, describing a fifth type of interference, the UAW cited Picoma Industries, 296 NLRB 498, 132 LRRM 1161 (1989), and Universal Manufacturing Corp., 156 NLRB 1459, 61 LRRM 1258 (1966), in alleging that the cumulative effect of all the third-party interference led employees to believe that a vote for the UAW might put their job security at risk.
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Text of the objections is available at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=bpen-9gjt8l.
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