Volkswagen employees have been relatively quiet lately on the issue of Volkswagen unionization, but one recently broke the silence and said he suspects there is movement behind the scenes.
"I expect something underhanded is afoot," Volkswagen employee Mike Burton wrote on the website he created, called No2UAW.
Burton has said that he wants his co-workers to be educated, and he thinks a secret ballot election is the only fair way to decide whether the United Auto Workers should organize at the local Volkswagen plant. Click here to see more of what Burton posted this month.
With help from the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, employees have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against Volkswagen America and the United Auto Workers Union, stemming from the efforts to form a union at the local plant.
One complaint alleges, in part, that statements by German officials have illegally coerced workers into representation by the United Auto Workers Union.
Another complaint says 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.
Leaders with the National Labor Relations Board said Tuesday they can't comment about ongoing investigations.
"There are several issues, and they are under investigation," NLRB spokesman Greg King said Tuesday.
VW officials also said they couldn't comment on ongoing legal matters.
So what's next?
Anthony Riedel, National Right to Work Legal Foundation spokesman, said that officials took statements from employees as part of the investigation after charges were filed.
"Right now, the investigation process continues, and we’re waiting to hear word on how the NLRB will proceed," he said.
The NLRB typically gives the charged party an opportunity to settle before issuing a complaint, according to the NLRB website, which King directed Nooga.com to for information about the process of settling complaints.
"If the charged party agrees and signs the settlement, no complaint will be issued, and the case will be closed after full compliance with the terms of the settlement agreement," according to the website.
There are rare occasions in which an NLRB official may approve a settlement that the charged party—in this case, the UAW and Volkswagen—agrees with, but the charging party—in this case, the VW employees—is unwilling to sign.
In that case, the NLRB's position is that the settlement "substantially remedies the alleged unfair labor practices," and the charging party can appeal that decision.
If neither of those options happens, the NLRB will issue a complaint, and a hearing will be scheduled before an administrative law judge.
Riedel said he expects that the next step will be for the NLRB to file a complaint and notice of hearing.
He said that NLRB officials dictate the timeline, so the process could take weeks or months.
Volkswagen leaders haven't commented on if or how they are responding to the charges.
This issue heated up when UAW officials asserted that they have support for a union from the majority of local Volkswagen workers.
Some workers with the No2UAW group have collected petitions signed by employees who say they do not want to be represented by the UAW.
If UAW leaders say they have enough cards to support a union, Volkswagen leaders can challenge the validity of the cards, they can acknowledge the cards and move to have a secret ballot election on the issue, or they can voluntarily recognize the cards and accept the union, according to archives.
It's still unclear what decision Volkswagen leaders will make.
UAW leaders—who have been unresponsive to Nooga's past efforts to get direct comment on the issue—have been working quietly for years to represent VW employees. Click here and here for more background on the issue.
The assertion that the UAW had enough signed cards from employees prompted pushback from some workers and led to the charges filed with the NLRB.
About a month ago, Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker met with Volkswagen AG Works Council Chairman Bernd Osterloh to discuss the issue of unionization at the local plant. Click here to read more about that.
Osterloh said that the pending decision about whether and how to organize won't impact production in Chattanooga, according to The Associated Press.
That comment came after Reuters reported that Osterloh said that having a works council is important to producing a second vehicle in Chattanooga, which may have given employees some basis for their charges against the company.
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.
But 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, said Horst Neumann, VW's board member for human resources, according to Automotive News.
But some local, state and national leaders, such as President of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce Ron Harr, Haslam and Corker, have said that partnering with the UAW would be bad for business in the area and prevent further recruitment.
Updated @ 9:14 a.m. on 12/18/13 for clarity.
Updated @ 9:47 a.m. on 1/24/14 to remove Volkswagen AG from the list of those charges were filed against.
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