Leaders of the United Auto Workers union dropped their appeal of February's election, but that doesn't necessarily mean the issue of whether to organize at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant is over.
"Obviously, they lost the election," said Mark Neuberger with Miami-based law firm Foley and Lardner, who came to represent three people subpoenaed—Matt Patterson, Grover Norquist and Tucker Nelson. "I would speculate from their perspective that this isn't over. They are just going to take another tactic going forward."
On Feb. 14, Volkswagen employees voted in a secret ballot election against UAW representation with a 712-626 vote.
But the UAW appealed that decision with the National Labor Relations Board, and a hearing was set to take place today at 9 a.m.
At 8:01 a.m., UAW officials sent out a statement that said they were dropping their objections. Click here for the initial story on that.
UAW President Bob King said in a prepared statement that leaders made the decision in the "best interests of Volkswagen employees, the automaker and economic development in Chattanooga."
The UAW's appeal was based on the idea that politicians and outside anti-union groups had influenced workers and tainted the election process.
King also cited refusals of Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker to comply with subpoenas as a reason for dropping the issue.
"The unprecedented political interference by Gov. Haslam, Sen. Corker and others was a distraction for Volkswagen employees and a detour from achieving Tennessee’s economic priorities," King said in a prepared statement. "The UAW is ready to put February’s tainted election in the rearview mirror and instead focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga."
More than a dozen lawyers were already at the Hamilton County Courthouse when the UAW made the announcement that they would drop the issue.
A few minutes before 9 a.m., the judge with the National Labor Relations Board made a brief statement, telling people they didn't even need to sit down to hear what she had to say.
She said the UAW had withdrawn objections and that the results of February's election would be certified.
As people filed out of the courtroom, one person said, "Unbelievable"; others expressed surprise at the last-minute move.
Maury Nicely, who is a lawyer representing Southern Momentum—a group of VW workers who oppose the union—said he is happy with the results, but still stunned.
"I was fully prepared for an extended hearing," he said. "It did come as a surprise to hear we wouldn't be having any hearing."
Nicely and Neuberger said UAW leaders must have realized their chances of getting a new election weren't good.
And UAW leaders said that, even if they did win another election, there was nothing stopping politicians and anti-union groups from "interfering" again.
Nicely said the outcome is what it should have been all along.
"The employees in this case made a reasoned decision," he said. "They voted to not have the UAW as part of their unit in Chattanooga, and that decision should have been upheld."
More indication that the situation might not be over came in a statement from Volkswagen.
VW officials said they still want to set up a new form of representation in the United States, similar to the codetermination model used in Germany.
Some German VW leaders wanted to work with the UAW because they want the plant to be a part of the Global Works Council.
But U.S. labor law doesn't allow for that to be done here the same way it is done in Germany. So VW needs a third-party partner, such as the UAW.
Volkswagen's entire statement read:
We welcome the decision by the UAW. It provides an important gesture for a constructive dialogue in Chattanooga. It is now time for all concerned to shape the future of the Chattanooga location. Important tasks lie ahead of us: to build excellent cars for the American market in Chattanooga; to create good, secure jobs in Tennessee; and to set up a new, innovative form of codetermination in the USA.
Volkswagen Chattanooga is seeking to establish good opportunities for consultation and representation for all its employees, opportunities that are normal practice for the Volkswagen team all over the world—that applies for those employees who voted against the UAW, just as it applies for those who voted in favor.
Politicians and other lawyers also responded to the Monday morning decision.
Corker said that the last-minute reversal affirmed what he has said all along—that the UAW's objective was to create a "sideshow" and draw attention away from their "stinging loss."
He also said that many have said that the UAW didn't really want another election because they knew they'd lose by an even larger margin.
"It's a shame the UAW slowed the momentum on our expansion conversations with Volkswagen, but now it's time for VW, our state and our community to re-engage and move forward with bringing additional jobs to Chattanooga," Corker also said.
Spokesman for Haslam Dave Smith said the appeal was baseless to begin with.
"The governor believes in elections and living with the results," he also said.
Patrick Semmens, vice president for public information with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation—a D.C.-based group that helped VW workers fight the UAW—said that the outcome is good for the workers.
He also said that lawyers with his organization issued subpoenas that he suspects the UAW didn't want to comply with.
He said via email:
The UAW has made a big deal about the subpoenas it filed against various public officials, but foundation staff attorneys also issued subpoenas against the UAW on behalf of the workers they represent. I strongly suspect that the UAW didn’t want VW workers or the public seeing the back and forth that accompanied the backroom deal to get the company’s silence during the quick-snap election. So part of the decision to withdraw the challenge before the hearing began was to prevent the release of potentially embarrassing information.
Officials with the union called the NLRB's process "historically dysfunctional and [a] complex process" and said the issue could be dragged out for months or years because of that.
UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel said in a prepared statement said that government leaders had made VW incentives contingent on the union vote.
"The UAW wants to help create quality jobs and build world-class products for American consumers," Casteel said. "With this in mind, we urge Gov. Haslam to immediately extend the incentives that previously were offered to Volkswagen for this new SUV line and do so unconditionally."
Updated @ 1:21 p.m. on 4/21/14 to add more information as it became available.
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