Volkswagen Plant Rejects Union, But Works Council May Be Established

By Allen Smith Feb 18, 2014
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The United Auto Workers (UAW) suffered a big loss on Feb. 14, 2014, when Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., employees voted against having the union as their bargaining representative.

The vote was close, with 53 percent voting against the UAW as their bargaining representative in an election that lasted from Feb. 12 to Feb. 14; the vote was 712- 626.

Works Council Idea Not Dead

Even though the UAW lost, VW still sounded interested in setting up a works council in Chattanooga, which, while common in the European Union, would be a first stateside.

“Our employees have not made a decision that they are against a works council,” noted Frank Fischer, CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga. “Throughout this process, we found great enthusiasm for the idea of an American-style works council both inside and outside our plant. Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a works council in accordance with the requirements of U.S. labor law to meet VW America’s production needs and serve our employees’ interests.”

The Chattanooga manufacturing facility builds the Passat sedan, and the facility is the only car factory worldwide with an LEED Platinum certification, meaning it’s eco-friendly.

The UAW was crestfallen, saying that by voting against it, workers voted against union representation that would have led to the establishment of a works council.

Circumstances of Election Questioned

The UAW maintained in a release that the election took place “amid a firestorm of interference and threats from special interest groups.”

“Unfortunately, politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that would grow jobs in Tennessee,” said UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who directs the union’s southern organizing.

“While we’re outraged by politicians and outside special interest groups interfering with the basic legal rights of workers to form a union, we’re proud that these workers were brave and stood up to the tremendous pressure from outside,” said UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams.

“We hope that this will start a larger discussion about workers’ right to organize,” Williams concluded.

Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.

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