Scandal-hit Volkswagen also faces US union battle
DETROIT, United States – German automaker Volkswagen, already deep in trouble in the United States over its polluting diesel engines, is also fighting a union challenge at its plant in the southern state of Tennessee.
Volkswagen of America, the automaker's US arm, said Monday, April 25, it plans to appeal a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that would allow the United Auto Workers (UAW) to negotiate a labor contract for 160 maintenance workers at the company's plant in Chattanooga.
The escalating issue with the powerful UAW union comes as Volkswagen is mired in legal and regulatory battles in the United States and other countries since its emissions-cheating scandal emerged in September.
VW has acknowledged 11 million vehicles worldwide are outfitted with software that reduces pollution levels only when the car is being tested for emissions.
The German automaker had not yet filed the appeal but decided to challenge the NLRB ruling rather than let the decision stand, Volkswagen spokesman Scott Neal Wilson said Monday.
"We didn't state that an appeal was filed, only the decision to do so," he said.
Earlier this month, a 3-member NLRB panel had denied Volkswagen's request for the agency to review a December 2015 election in which skilled-trades employees in Chattanooga voted overwhelmingly to designate UAW Local 42 as their collective bargaining representative. The NLRB upheld the results of the election, which it had supervised.
The December vote in Chattanooga marked the first time workers in the US South voted for union representation. The Chattanooga facility is the only Volkswagen plant in the world without union representation, the UAW said.
Volkswagen had argued that the skilled-trades-only bargaining unit in Chattanooga plant is not appropriate for collective bargaining. VW says that production and maintenance employees share a common community of interest and should have an equal voice in their workplace.
The UAW has pressed VW to negotiate a new contract for the unit's 160 members approved by the NLRB that would be the first negotiated at an auto plant in the South owned by an Asian or European carmaker.
The Chattanooga workforce is expected to grow as the company prepares to use the plant for building a new sport utility vehicle, Cross Blue, which is critical for rebuilding VW's sales in the country after the emissions scandal.
UAW: 'Stall tactic'
Gary Casteel, the UAW executive board member in charge of the organizing effort in Chattanooga, said Volkswagen’s refusal to come to the bargaining table since the December election has been a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
Divided union representation is not uncommon at Volkswagen plants around the world or work sites throughout the United States.
"If Volkswagen tries to force this matter into the federal court of appeals, we see it as a stall tactic that won't work," Casteel said.
"The appeals court with jurisdiction over the Chattanooga plant already has ruled that clearly identifiable employee units within a workforce, such as the skilled-trades unit at Volkswagen, can seek recognition in order to achieve collective bargaining," said Casteel, noting that US courts have long ruled that unions can represent part of a company's workforce.
"Furthermore, Volkswagen plants around the world – including in such countries as Italy, Russia, and Spain – recognize multiple unions that represent portions of a workforce," he added.
Volkswagen of America, however, is facing heavy pressure from conservative Republicans, who dominate the state legislature in Tennessee and had long assumed the Chattanooga plant would be a non-union operation when they voted to help subsidize its construction.
"At a time when Volkswagen already has run afoul of the federal and state governments in the emissions-cheating scandal, we're disappointed that the company now is choosing to thumb its nose at the federal government over US labor law," Casteel said.
"At the end of the day, the employees are the ones being cheated by Volkswagen's actions." – Rappler.com