CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee — Working men and women at Volkswagen today won an important victory following an order by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) supporting efforts among skilled-trades employees to secure meaningful employee representation.
A three-member NLRB panel 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 representative for the purpose of collective bargaining. Today’s order, in effect, upholds the results of the election, which the NLRB supervised.
Federal law provides for units within a workforce to seek recognition for achieving collective bargaining. In its order, the NLRB noted that employees in the skilled-trades unit at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant are “readily identifiable as a group” and that Volkswagen failed to demonstrate otherwise.
Local union members applauded the order. “The NLRB supervised a fair election at the plant and then promptly certified the results,” said Mike Cantrell, president of UAW Local 42. “We’re glad to see the decision upheld and we look forward to meeting Volkswagen at the collective bargaining table in the near future.”
Collective bargaining is a common practice between employees and employers in the U.S. The NLRB describes collective bargaining as an effort between an employer and employees to “bargain in good faith about wages, hours, vacation time, insurance, safety practices and other subjects.”
Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the International union’s Transnational Department, said Volkswagen’s refusal to come to the bargaining table since the December election has been a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
“With today’s order, the NLRB has clearly stated that it views the skilled-trades election in Chattanooga as a legal and appropriate step toward meaningful employee representation,” Casteel said. “We hope Volkswagen’s new management team will accept the government’s decision and refocus on the core values that made it a successful brand — environmental sustainability and meaningful employee representation.”
Casteel added: “We call on Volkswagen to immediately move forward with UAW Local 42, in the German spirit of co-determination.”
UAW Local 42 has strong support among blue-collar workers in the Chattanooga plant — the only Volkswagen facility in the world that remains unrepresented on the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, the influential body of employee leaders from around the world. In 2014, the Global Group Works Council and IG Metall, the powerful German trade union, signed a letter stating their desire for Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant to be a “UAW-represented facility.”
UAW officials reiterated that the timing of the skilled trades election is unrelated to the Volkswagen emissions scandal. UAW Local 42 members asked Volkswagen to recognize the local union as the bargaining representative of skilled trades employees in August 2015 — more than a month before the emissions scandal was revealed.
Looking ahead, Cantrell said UAW Local 42 will communicate with Volkswagen leaders — in the U.S. and Germany — about initiating collective bargaining for the skilled trades employees at the earliest possible date.
TIMELINE: UAW LOCAL 42
August 2015: Members of UAW Local 42 ask Volkswagen to recognize the local union as the bargaining representative of skilled-trades employees at the Chattanooga plant. The company declines the request.
October 2015: UAW Local 42 files paperwork with the NLRB seeking a representation election for employees in the skilled-trades unit.
November 2015: The NLRB rules in favor of UAW Local 42 and orders an election for 160 skilled- trades employees at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, rejecting an attempt by the company to block the election.
December 2015: Skilled-trades employees at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga vote overwhelmingly to designate UAW Local 42 as their bargaining representative. The NLRB confirms that 71 percent of employees voting favored recognition for UAW Local 42. Volkswagen refuses to recognize UAW Local 42 or enter into collective bargaining, and asks the NLRB for a review of the election.
February 2016: UAW Local 42 files charges with the NLRB stipulating that Volkswagen is violating the National Labor Relations Act and has “unlawfully continued to refuse to bargain.”
April 2016: The NLRB denies Volkswagen’s request for a review of the December election, in effect, upholding the election and its results.
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