VW Workers Vote For Unionization In Tennessee, But Volkswagen Cries Foul

December 7, 2015

Employees at Volkswagen's manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee have voted in favor of unionization. The automaker isn't at all happy about that, though, and it's already begun working to invalidate the election.

A RECAP

In February of 2014, workers at Volkswagen's only U.S. plant voted against UAW representation by a moderately close vote of 712-626. Union fans were upset, arguing that VW and elected officials had unfairly influenced workers' votes. U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) in particular was criticized for suggesting that Volkswagen might scale back operations in Tennessee  -- or at least, not expand them -- if unionization was approved.

Some union supporters vowed vengeance, but two months later, plans for a re-vote were abruptly dropped. At the time, it was suggested that union organizers might've been intimidated by the long, arduous process of a re-match, but it's entirely possible that they spotted a chink in VW's armor and decided to regroup.

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Whatever happened behind the scenes, it worked. The recent vote in favor of unionization was the first at a foreign-owned auto facility and the first in the South.

But all isn't as it seems. 

Voting was limited to 164 skilled trades employees, who represent a small fraction of VW's 1,450 hourly workers in Chattanooga. So, even though more than 70 percent of voters sided with union representation, the vote won't change the bargaining rights of most workers at the plant.

What's more, Volkswagen is doing its best to overturn the vote. The company has filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that an NLRB official's decision to allow a vote among only skilled trades employees was unfair. According to Volkswagen, all hourly workers should've been allowed to vote on the matter of union representation.

To bolster its case, Volkswagen has said that the timing of the vote gave union advocates an unfair advantage because of the ongoing Dieselgate scandal. Essentially, the argument goes that the negative sentiment being generated in the press has left workers predisposed to question Volkswagen's corporate motives -- and thus, to vote in favor of union representation.

(We might counter that anti-Volkswagen sentiment isn't entirely unreasonable, given the fact that Volkswagen itself has admitted wrongdoing. Nor is it fomented entirely by the media: there are plenty of owners and dealers deeply upset by the scandal, and fewer Volkswagen fans like Corker willing to come forward and defend the company.)

It's unclear whether Volkswagen will be successful in its bid to undo the vote. However, union organizers say that if a vote were held today among the full body of Chattanooga workers, they would elect to join the union. Perhaps that's wishful thinking, or perhaps Volkswagen should quit while it's behind.

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