UAW Appeals VW-Chattanooga Election Result to NLRB; AP Report Ignores Obama's Intervention, Downplays German Union's Threat

February 22nd, 2014 4:07 PM

In a complete non-surprise given their officials' reactions last week, the United Auto Workers union has filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board of the election they lost at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tennessee plant.

As would be expected for an organization whose journalists are members of the News Media Guild, a Friday evening report by Associated Press reporters Tom Raum and Erik Schelzig emphasized the "outside intervention" of First Amendment-protected statements made by Volunteer State politicians, including Senator Bob Corker, in the runup to the balloting, while ignoring and minimizing thuggish behavior and statements by UAW supporters and sympathizers. They also saved assessments that the effort is a long-shot at best, at least on the merits, for much later paragraphs — but with President Barack Obama's NLRB, you never know. Excerpts follow the jump (bolds are mine throughout this post):



The United Auto Workers on Friday challenged last week's close vote by workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., that rejected the UAW's bid to represent them.

In an appeal filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the union asserted that "interference by politicians and outside special interest groups" had swayed the election.

In particular, the appeal took aim at Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and former Chattanooga mayor, who suggested that a "no" vote would lead a Volkswagen expansion in the state.

The UAW bid was defeated in a 712-626 vote, even though the German company generally is considered labor-friendly.

"It's an outrage that 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," UAW President Bob King said.

... The UAW challenge comes days after the top labor representative on Volkswagen's supervisory board suggested that the anti-union atmosphere fostered by Southern conservatives could lead the company to make future investments elsewhere. Worker representatives make up half of the board that has control over all management decisions at Volkswagen.

... Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor history professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said the Democratic-controlled NLRB may be looking to set a precedent about union intimidation but that the VW vote doesn't present the best facts to do so.

"If I were a liberal member of the NLRB, I'd look for a really egregious case of management interference to make a point about curbing the capacity of management to close plants or move," said Lichtenstein, who described himself as a labor supporter. "The prospects are poor here because it was third-party public officials."

Volkswagen worker Sean Moss, who was among a group of anti-UAW organizers, said the union's complaint smacks of desperation because it couldn't persuade workers. "It's definitely sour grapes," he said.

As has consistently been the case the election result was known late on Friday, February 14, Raum and Schelzig completely ignored President Obama's statement at a "closed door" meeting with Democrats early that day the administration clearly intended to leak to influence the election. As a refresher, here's a portion of the Reuters report by Richard Cowan and Bernie Woodall that day:

Obama weighs in on contentious union vote at Volkswagen plant

President Barack Obama on Friday waded into a high-stakes union vote at Volkswagen AG's plant in Tennessee, accusing Republican politicians who oppose unionization of being more concerned about German shareholders than U.S. workers.

Obama's comments, made at a closed-door meeting of Democratic lawmakers in Maryland, came as the vote to allow union representation at the Chattanooga plant drew to a close.

The vote will have wide-reaching implications for the auto industry in the South, where all foreign-owned assembly plants employ nonunion labor, and for the United Auto Workers union, which could use a victory to reverse a decades-long downward spiral.

The vote has faced fierce resistance from local Republican politicians and national conservative groups who have warned that a UAW victory could hurt economic growth in Tennessee. While voting was under way on Wednesday, Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker said VW could announce new investment in the plant if the UAW lost the secret ballot.

... Obama's interjection in the war of words on Friday, albeit behind closed doors, underscored how much is stake in the three-day vote by VW's 1,550 hourly workers. The vote is due to end at 8:30 p.m. ET and the results could be announced soon after that.

It's reasonable to ask why Obama's intervention isn't just as relevant as Corker's, given that the President is the most powerful politician on earth and is clearly unconcerned about staying within his designated constitutional limits.

The AP pair's description of the response from the union official in Germany is also far from complete. It wasn't a "could lead" statement. It was a direct threat, as seen here in a Reuters report from Germany:

VW workers may block southern U.S. deals if no unions: labor chief

Volkswagen's top labor representative threatened on Wednesday to try to block further investments by the German carmaker in the southern United States if its workers there are not unionized.

Workers at VW's factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last Friday voted against representation by the United Auto Workers union (UAW), rejecting efforts by VW representatives to set up a German-style works council at the plant.

German workers enjoy considerable influence over company decisions under the legally enshrined "co-determination" principle which is anathema to many politicians in the U.S. who see organized labor as a threat to profits and job growth.

Chattanooga is VW's only factory in the U.S. and one of the company's few in the world without a works council.

"I can imagine fairly well that another VW factory in the United States, provided that one more should still be set up there, does not necessarily have to be assigned to the south again," said Bernd Osterloh, head of VW's works council.

"If co-determination isn't guaranteed in the first place, we as workers will hardly be able to vote in favor" of potentially building another plant in the U.S. south, Osterloh, who is also on VW's supervisory board, said.

The 20-member panel - evenly split between labor and management - has to approve any decision on closing plants or building new ones.

The split is made even more relevant by the fact that "decisions require a two-thirds majority of the Board."

Finally, there is the completely unreported matter of thuggish preelection behavior by the UAW, except at Fox News. On Fox & Friends on Monday, Mike Jarvis, in a statement captured at Rush Limbaugh's web site, had this to say:

JARVIS: ... I actually got a phone call last night from an unknown union member that I didn't like his tone. He wouldn't give me his name or number and I didn't like what he said to me. I'll keep that private right now. It was about my stance against the union.

RUSH: What that means is that a thug called this guy up and threatened him. He got an intimidating call from a union thug, and it still didn't intimidate him.

But according to the press, only what Bob Corker and other Tennessee politicians said matters. Horse manure.

Cross-posted at