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Volkswagen Tennessee Union Bid on Hold in Big Defeat for UAW (2)

May 3, 2019, 8:00 PMUpdated: May 3, 2019, 9:25 PM

Volkswagen will escape a second unionization effort at its Chattanooga, Tenn., plant for the time being after the National Labor Relations Board sided with the company in a legal dispute with the United Auto Workers.

The NLRB in an unexpected move May 3, granted Volkswagen’s request to put the election on hold. The company argued that a separate legal dispute over the UAW’s earlier attempt to organize a smaller group of workers must be resolved before workers can vote on whether to be represented by the union plant-wide.

NLRB Chairman John Ring (R) and Member Marvin Kaplan (R) agreed to block the new union vote in a single-sentence opinion, without a larger explanation on the basis for the decision. Lauren McFerran, the board’s sole Democrat, said in a dissenting opinion that VW “has not established that such extraordinary relief is necessary.”

In a statement, Volkswagen re-iterated its belief that any union in Chattanooga should include all employees rather than a smaller group of workers.

“Before we proceed, we asked the National Labor Relations Board to ensure that the pending NLRB decision is properly resolved first,” the company said. “Today, the NLRB agreed to consider our request and we look forward to their decision.”

UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg was in transit and not immediately able to access the decision but said that “Chattanooga workers deserve to have a vote to have the same workplace rights as every other VW worker in the world.”

Delay Due to Earlier Vote

The company had argued that a smaller UAW election of about 160 maintenance workers in 2015 precluded another vote at the plant.

A year must pass after a union certification at a facility before there can be another union election, which allows for adequate bargaining time. VW argued that the one-year ban was still in effect since it hadn’t technically started bargaining with the union.

The company previously refused to bargain with the smaller unit, saying that it improperly segmented workers at the facility and that it would be more appropriate to include all workers. It had appealed the validity of the smaller maintenance unit.

The UAW previously said it was stepping away from the smaller unit to speed up the new plant-wide election.

An original plant-wide representation bid by the UAW in 2014 fell about 90 votes short.

The decision is a major setback for organized labor efforts in the union-averse South. It also continues the UAW’s streak of organizing troubles at foreign-owned auto plants operating in the U.S., including a 2017 loss at Nissan’s Canton, Miss., facility.

The UAW had hoped to use time to its advantage, seeking a late April vote that would have allowed little time for anti-union groups to take root. Just this week, an anti-union group calling itself Southern Momentum resurfaced in Chattanooga after first forming in 2014.

Volkswagen told employees last month that it would remain neutral in a union election while indicating that it would prefer to remain union-free.

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Wallender in Washington at awallender@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com