Labor expert: UAW may not be done with Volkswagen Chattanooga yet


By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE —The United Auto Workers union lost a vote last week to represent workers at Volkswagen of Chattanooga’s plant, but that doesn’t mean they’re done trying to assert themselves there, said one labor expert.

For starters, the UAW may legally try another vote once a year has passed, said Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation.

The NRWF is a nonprofit that unsuccessfully filed charges against the UAW with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of an unspecified number of Chattanooga VW employees.


The UAW might also make some headway by accusing state politicians of swaying the election results with statements arguing the company might cease to receive any more taxpayer-funded incentives, Semmens said.

“Once the election gets certified by the NLRB, I believe there’s a period of about seven days in which the union can file objections to it,” Semmens told Tennessee Watchdog. “I would say there’s a better than 50 percent chance that the UAW will file objections with the intent of setting aside this election result and re-running the election.”

While this is all theoretical, Semmens said such tactics are common for UAW members, even though they don’t have a solid case to make.

UAW officials in both Nashville and Detroit didn’t return Tennessee Watchdog’s messages before publication.

A statement on UAW’s website from secretary-treasurer Dennis Williams said the following:

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

Semmens believes UAW members will try to use such arguments in their favor.

NO-GO: Workers as a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., decided not to join the United Auto Workers union last week.

As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, Tennessee officials gave Volkswagen more than $260 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies to set up shop in Chattanooga.

“They can’t make a third party give up their free speech rights, but it doesn’t mean they won’t try,” Semmens said. “If you don’t like the vote then get rid of it and have another vote. We’ll see what happens.”

Ironically, despite UAW’s complaints of too many outside influences speaking out against its intentions, no less powerful an influence than President Barack Obama publicly supported them.

Even before the results of Friday’s vote were announced, Justin Owen, president of the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee, told Tennessee Watchdog that UAW has no place complaining about outside influences.

The taxpayers of Tennessee, Owen said, have a legitimate interest in the matter. Volkswagen

“We have skin in the game, and we have the right to express our opinion on what a unionized plant means for the future of our state,” Owen said. “If there’s any outside influence at play, it’s the union bosses jet-setting down from Detroit trying to expand their power grip on American workers.”

As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, talks between UAW and VW workers revolved around whether UAW should form what has thus far been known as a European-style works council, which no other U.S. automobile factory has.

Depending on whom you ask, a works council is also one of two other things — a prelude to forming an actual union or no different from already having one, Semmens said.

A union isn’t legally required for the type of activity that goes on in works councils, at least not in the United States, according to the NRTW website.

Tennessee is a right-to-work state, meaning workers can’t be fired for not joining the UAW and paying union dues.

If it had established itself at VW Chattanooga, UAW would have had a presence at a foreign-owned automobile manufacturing plant for the first time in more than 20 years.

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