Cleveland, Ohio – Volkswagen’s production and maintenance workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, rejected a bid to join the United Auto Workers (UAW) by about 52% against/48% for. More workers in this year’s election, but the tally was nearly identical to the 53/47 rejection in early 2014.
The union blamed the vote’s failure on U.S. labor laws, saying it is nearly impossible to organize when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is in Republican hands. The NLRB has the authority to punish companies if it feels that they are violating statutes by threatening employees who try to form unions. The federal body’s leadership is appointed by the president, so the board tends to be more aggressive in enforcing laws under Democratic leadership and more lax under Republican control.
“Our labor laws are broken,” said UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg. “Workers should not have to endure threats and intimidation in order to obtain the right to collectively bargain. The law doesn’t serve workers, it caters to clever lawyers who are able to manipulate the NLRB process.”
The union is urging lawmakers to strengthen labor laws to make it easier for workers to join unions, but even that request is politically forward looking. While the Democratic House of Representatives may forward a bill calling for independent leadership for the NLRB, the Republican-controlled Senate would almost certainly reject such legislation, and President Donald Trump could veto the bill in the unlikely chance that it passed.
UAW VW campaign Organizing Director Tracy Romero accused the company of implying it would close the plant in workers unionized, saying the company used legal maneuvers to lengthen the process and spent that time vilifying the union.
In the more than 30 years since the first Japanese automakers started making cars in Ohio and Tennessee, the UAW has failed every organizing drive at plants owned by Japanese and German automakers. In Germany, VW’s unions are on the company’s management board, and the UAW has worked with its European counterparts to pressure the company’s management to support unionization.
In 2014, VW officials took a neutral position, dropping challenges that sped the voting process in what industry watchers saw as the mildest response to a UAW campaign ever. However, Republican lawmakers in Tennessee took a firm stand against the union, threatening to revoke tax breaks for the automakers and take other steps to make it more difficult for a union-represented VW to operate in that state.
With that vote, the UAW praised the company for its neutral stance and blamed lawmakers for fearmongering. Five years later, Tennessee lawmakers were fairly quiet, so the union is blaming the company.
The union must wait at least a year before collecting signatures to call for a new vote. UAW organizers said they’ll again work with their European counterparts to pressure VW’s management to take a gentler approach toward the UAW.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 19 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.