WASHINGTON — First they lost the election and then they dropped their legal challenge with the National Labor Relations Board, but the United Auto Workers still aren’t done trying to organize workers at the the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Because of NLRB rules, the union would have to wait at least until 2015 to hold another official NLRB vote, but UAW President Bob King said he is keeping his options open to unionize workers and set up a works council in other ways.
“We’re gonna be there. We’re gonna provide resources and assistance,” King told BuzzFeed.
Union officials are now looking at securing another certified majority or holding a private election to organize the workers at the plant rather than go through the NLRB process again, though that’s not entirely out of the question either. That’s a decision that’ll be made “down the road,” according to King.
The UAW surprised nearly everyone on Monday when the union withdrew its election objections just an hour before the start of a NLRB hearing on the case. In a statement, the union said dropping the case was “in the best interests of Volkswagen employees, the automaker, and economic development in Chattanooga.”
The union decided to hold an official NLRB election in the first place — despite workers producing a certified majority of signed union cards — because the union didn’t anticipate high-profile efforts against the vote from Republicans, King said.
UAW cites the reported $300 million in incentives the state and Gov. Bill Haslam offered to Volkswagen, contingent in part on the failure of the union, as the core political effort by Republicans.
The union said part of its decision to drop the appeal to the NLRB was because the union is focused on creating more jobs at the plant, which would come if VW decides to build its new SUV there rather than at a plant in Mexico. The incentives from Tennessee could play a major part in that decision.
It remains unclear, at least publicly, where talks regarding the incentives stand between VW and the state. David Smith, a spokesman for Haslam, told BuzzFeed in an emailed statement, “We thought the appeal was baseless to begin with. It was a fair election. The governor believes in elections and living with the results. He looks forward to sitting down with the company to discuss VW’s growth in Tennessee.”
A spokesman for VW didn’t respond to requests for comment on where talks regarding incentives stand, but did forward the statement it released when the union’s decision to drop its challenge was first announced.
“Volkswagen Chattanooga is seeking to establish good opportunities for consultation and representation for all its employees, opportunities that are normal practice for the Volkswagen team all over the world — that applies for those employees who voted against the UAW just as it applies for those who voted in favor,” the statement said.
The union also dropped its challenge in the NLRB just days after Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, lead by Reps. George Miller and John Tierney, announced an investigation into whether Tennessee lawmakers violated labor laws during the election.
Haslam has not yet responded to the committee’s request for documents relating to the election, and it’s unclear if he ever will.
Since they are in the minority, House Democrats don’t have subpoena power for their investigations. Republicans are unlikely to help them out.
“The committee will not second guess the UAW’s decision to accept the will of workers by dropping its challenge of the election result,” a committee GOP spokesman told BuzzFeed.
Senate Democrats, who would have subpoena power, are so far staying mum on whether they will take up the investigation. A Democratic aide for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee said they are focused on the upcoming minimum wage vote and are unsure how they’ll respond to the investigation.
King, who said he’s met with both the Senate and the House on the matter, didn’t want to speculate on how the Senate will act.
“The positive is that George Miller and John Tierney have asked for an inquiry in the House,” he said.
But as that investigation plays out, the union will continue its groundwork in Chattanooga.
“I’m very optimistic that we’ll get a majority again,” King said.
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