Four local Volkswagen employees have filed federal charges against the company, alleging that statements by German officials are illegally coercing fellow workers into representation by the United Auto Workers union.
"Volkswagen AG in Germany has communicated to the Chattanooga employees via letter and media that for expansion to occur a works council, one that requires a union, specifically the UAW, should be in place," Mike Burton, one of the employees involved in bringing the charges, said. "Intimidation and coercion of fellow team members is not right. Volkswagen management here in Chattanooga has been exemplary in allowing both sides equal time and opportunities consistently."
Reuters reported last week that VW AG Works Council Chairman Bernd Osterloh said that having a works council is important to producing a second vehicle in Chattanooga.
"We know how important that vehicle is for Chattanooga," Osterloh said, according to Reuters.
Reuters also reported Osterloh has input into production decisions and that he said the UAW has agreed to give some of its rights to a works council. Read more here.
Officials with the National Right to Work Foundation said that the comments from VW management link expanded production at the Chattanooga facility with the adoption of a works council, which the NRWF says would force workers to accept the representation of UAW union officials.
“With reports that Volkswagen is considering Chattanooga to build its new SUV, this is no idle threat,” Mark Mix, president of the NRWF, said in a prepared statement. “If VW management was discouraging workers from joining the UAW with threats, there’s little question that an NLRB prosecution would have already begun at the UAW’s behest.”
Local VW leaders declined to comment on the charges.
The workers allege in their charge that Volkswagen’s leaders' comments threaten that failure to accept the union would risk losing potential for job growth and “interfere[s] with Chattanooga facility employees’ rights to choose whether or not to engage in self-organization to form, join, or assist labor organizations," according to the foundation.
Three of the four VW workers are part of a group of eight VW employees that also filed charges last month alleging improprieties in the UAW union hierarchy’s “card check” process.
That complaint alleges that UAW representatives got workers to sign union authorization cards by coercion and misrepresentation and used union cards signed too long ago to be legally valid.
Burton said that some employees don't think that it is fair to be forced to make a decision that they don't think is good for the company.
"Over 600 of us have already said NO to the UAW," he also said in an email. "If the UAW thinks otherwise, then let's have that secret ballot vote ASAP. Time to put up or get out."
For about three years, the UAW has been trying to organize Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant, and the issue has recently heated up.
UAW membership has been on the decline, and it would be a big victory if the union made it into a Southern plant. They need new members to survive.
And some Volkswagen AG leaders want Chattanooga’s plant to be a part of its works council system. It’s currently the only plant out of about 100 around the world that operates outside that system.
Because the National Labor Relations Act forbids companies to have an internal union, organizing the local plant can’t be done exactly like the German model.
Volkswagen AG leaders want a works council because it would allow them to stay in touch with ideas and thoughts from Chattanooga workers and come to future deals about working conditions, Horst Neumann, VW's board member for human resources, said, according to Automotive News.
A UAW leader recently said that union representatives had collected cards in support of organization from at least 51 percent of the local employees.
That prompted push back from employees, who created the No2UAW.com website and started collecting petitions that document opposition to the UAW.
Officials with the National Right to Work Foundation offered free legal help to the workers and assisted them in filing the charge with the National Labor Relations Board regional office in Atlanta.
Updated @ 3:49 p.m. to add additional comments.
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