The United Auto Workers (UAW) have disclaimed the bargaining unit of 160 skilled-trades workers at Volkswagen’s (VW) Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant. The union organized the maintenance employees in 2015 but failed to secure a first contract for the group. In the past few years, the UAW has accused VW of multiple unfair labor practices, including that VW violated federal law by refusing to bargain. The UAW’s move may be tied to a recent NLRB decision that restricted a union’s ability to determine which workers to include in the bargaining unit, or it may reflect a gamble by the UAW that it can now win in a more broadly defined unit.
On April 16, 2019, the UAW turned its focus to filing a representation petition seeking an election to represent all 1,709 hourly production and maintenance employees. The union claims that it has signed up 65 percent of hourly workers for union authorization cards, including the maintenance workers previously organized in 2015.
The UAW also appeared at an NLRB hearing on April 16. Although several unfair labor practice charges remain pending against VW, the union is seeking a speedy election (as early as April 29) and does not want the pending charges to block such an election. However, VW has stated that it would “ensure that the prior maintenance-only petition is properly resolved first.” The NLRB extended the deadline to file information until the week of April 22. If the UAW is ultimately successful, Chattanooga autoworkers will vote for the third time in five years.
Volkswagen first opened the 3.4-million-square-foot facility in 2011. Since then, the plant has been the subject of international attention for its union-organizing activity. In Germany, employees and labor representatives hold half of the seats of VW’s supervisory board (required by German law), and the UAW has sought to leverage that support. However, despite a high turnout rate, VW’s publicly neutral position, and two years of organizing efforts, the UAW was narrowly voted down in a 2014 plant-wide election by a vote of 712 to 626.
The plant currently produces the Passat, a midsize sedan, and the Atlas, a midsize SUV. In January, VW announced plans to invest $800 million in the plant, creating an expected 1,000 jobs in the U.S by making the Chattanooga facility VW’s North American hub for manufacturing electric automobiles.