Workers file suit to prevent VW, union from collusion on vote
Citing "an imminent threat that plaintiffs and their co-workers will become exclusively represented by the UAW against their will,” workers at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee who recently voted down a proposal for the UAW to represent them, are asking a judge to prevent the company from aiding the union if a revote is ordered by the NLRB.
The federal lawsuit comes just a day after the NLRB granted workers the right to intervene in the appeals process over objections from the company and the union, which had attempted to shut workers out of the process. VW has pushed workers to form a works council in the right-to-work state with company board members even threatening to withdraw investments in the factory if it does not unionize.
“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,” Bernd Osterloh, head of VW’s works council, said after the election. “If co-determination isn’t guaranteed in the first place, we as workers will hardly be able to vote in favor” of building another plant in right-to-work states.
VW signed a neutrality agreement with the union during the UAW campaign, which bound the company to stay out of the fight.
However, the lawsuit alleges that VW gave UAW organizers access to the factory grounds and provided the union office space. It also allowed union supporters to wear black UAW shirts on company grounds.
The lawsuit says that the company’s blatant endorsement of the union violates federal labor law, which prevents employers from providing unions “things of value,” such as money and access to information about employees. The Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation won a Supreme Court case in 2013 that focused on similar company cooperation with unions.
“Volkswagen agreed in … the organizing agreement to conduct meetings for all employees, on paid work time and on company property, at which Volkswagen would inform employees that it supports the formation of a ‘works council’ and at which the UAW could solicit employees to support the union,” the lawsuit said. “The organizing assistance reduces the UAW’s expense in conducting an organizing campaign against the employees.”
Workers will suffer if they are “forced into an unwanted fiduciary relationship with the UAW that will grant the UAW partial control over plaintiffs’ wages, benefits, and working conditions and will deprive plaintiffs of their individual abilities to deal with Volkswagen with respect to their terms and conditions of employment,” according to the suit.
Thew UAW is alleging that outsiders unfairly influenced the vote and want a revote based on the strange notion that only the union has a right to lobby workers. If the NLRB thinks it can use that fiction without their decision being overturned, they will likely order the revote. But there's nothing in any labor law that prevents private groups or citizens from expressing their opinion about union representation.
Volkswagen obviously wants a union. But should they be able to subtly pressure employees into voting for one by giving the union broad access to the factory floor and grounds? That's what the suit will seek to decide.