Autoworkers Succeed Without UAW Bosses’ ‘Help’

Union Kingpins Still Seek Monopoly Control Over Chattanooga Plant

(From the August 2014 National Right to Work Committee Newsletter)

Last fall, United Auto Workers (UAW, AFL-CIO) union bosses’ multi-year, lavishly funded campaign to secure monopoly-bargaining privileges over employees at Volkswagen’s motor-vehicle assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., was heating up.

chattanooga-uaw-here-to-helpMeanwhile, independent-minded employees at the facility, located in the eastern part of a state that has had a Right to Work law on the books since 1947, were growing concerned about a contingent in VW’s top management.

Judging by media reports, several high-ranking executives appeared to want to help UAW kingpins grab monopoly power to speak for Chattanooga employees on matters concerning their wages, benefits and work rules — even if a majority opposed unionization.

Emblematic of freedom-loving workers’ concerns was Bernd Osterloh, head of VW’s “global works council” and a member of the presidium of the supervisory board of Volkswagen AG.

As Reuters reported on October 16, Mr. Osterloh had unsubtly indicated in an interview the week before that the establishment of a so-called “works council” at the Chattanooga plant was imperative “if the plant wanted a second model in the future, in addition to the Passat sedan currently built there.”

This statement was quickly seized upon by UAW union organizers.

With little contradiction from the media or VW executives, union organizers were then contending that, under U.S. labor law, the type of “works council” advocated by Mr. Osterloh could not be established at the Chattanooga plant unless it was first unionized.

Majority of Workers Refused To Bow to Big Labor Pressure

Obviously eager to assist UAW bosses, Mr. Osterloh, who in Germany is VW’s top union official as well as a company executive, emphasized to Reuters he knew how much employees in Chattanooga wanted the company’s new seven-passenger crossover vehicle to be produced in their plant, rather than in Mexico.

“It would be good if the Chattanooga factory already had a [UAW boss-dominated] works council,” he added, “because what’s at stake at the moment is another model for our U.S. factory.”

Had Bernd Osterloh been an officer of VW’s American subsidiary when he was threatening U.S. employees that their plant would be denied a major job-creating investment unless they unionized, even President Barack Obama’s National Labor Relations Board would likely have had to press charges against the company.

But because Mr. Osterloh was an officer of the German parent company rather than its U.S. affiliate, “NLRB bureaucrats could contend, however implausibly, that his overt threat was not illegal under federal labor law,” noted Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee.

“At any rate,” he recalled, “the majority of VW’s Chattanooga employees ultimately refused to bow to pressure to acquiesce to union monopoly control.”

First, with free assistance from attorneys on the staff of the Committee’s sister organization, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, employees opposed to a union monopoly collected more than 600 signatures for a petition stating they did not want to have the UAW foisted on them.

Workers, Aided by Right to Work Attorneys, Ultimately Secured a Secret-Ballot Vote

Also with Right to Work legal assistance, employees deterred VW executives from going along with demands from then-UAW czar Bob King and his lieutenants to grant union officials “exclusive” representation privileges based on signed union “authorization” cards alone, without a secret-ballot vote.

Employees gathered ample evidence that UAW organizers had illegally used misrepresentations, coercion, threats and inducements to obtain many of the authorization card signatures that by late 2013 were being deployed to enthrone UAW bosses through a so-called “card check.”

Finally, VW leaders decided they could not hand over all their front-line employees to the UAW brass based on such dubious evidence of majority support. This February 3, employees were informed that, on February 12, an up-or-down vote over UAW monopoly representation would begin.

The electoral playing field was to be tilted steeply in Big Labor’s favor.

For example, over the course of the nine days between when the election was announced and its onset, VW “allowed union activists to canvass inside the plant, while forbidding employees opposed to unionization an equal chance to argue the other side,” as a Washington Times editorial reported February 7.

Federal labor law clearly prohibits an employer from granting one side in a certification campaign access to its work areas, while denying access to the other. Some company executives were evidently willing to take the risk of having NLRB charges filed against them in order to ensure a UAW victory. 

After UAW Loss, VW Opted To Build SUV in Tennessee

But on Valentine’s Day evening, America learned the workers had still said “no.”

VW Chattanooga employees voted against unionizing by a margin of 712 to 626. Union bosses’ margin of defeat would undoubtedly have been far greater had opponents had equal ability to campaign on company property.

Shortly after the election, UAW kingpins petitioned the NLRB to overturn it, based on the novel theory that unsolicited anti-UAW statements by Tennessee elected officials who have no control over employees’ jobs somehow improperly swayed the voters.

But the UAW brass subsequently backed off when it became clear that persisting with the case might well give Right to Work Foundation attorneys, representing independent-minded employees, the opportunity to expose in detail how union chiefs and certain VW executives had illegally colluded with one another.

And last month, it became apparent that, despite all that VW has done in the recent past to appease Big Labor, a critical mass of key players in the firm recognize that the union-free facility in Chattanooga represents an excellent investment opportunity.

On July 14, VW announced it would invest $900 million to build a new line of SUV’s in Chattanooga, creating, a Wall Street Journal editorial later that week opined, 2000 factory jobs “that would probably have gone to Mexico if the UAW had won.”

Production of the new SUV, based on VW’s CrossBlue concept vehicle unveiled in Detroit in 2013, is expected to begin at the end of 2016. As AP reporters Erik Schelzig and Tom Krisher explained, “It gives VW an entry into an important segment of the U.S. market, the family people mover.”

In addition to expanding the Chatanooga plant by roughly 538,000 square feet, VW announced it would build a new research center nearby that would employ 200 engineers.

Do VW Executives Prefer To Live Dangerously?

Mr. Mix commented: “One might hope that VW’s decision to bet, to a large extent, the future of the company on its production employees in Chattanooga means that the company has decided to respect the views of the clear majority of workers who don’t want a union monopoly.

“Unfortunately, there is substantial evidence that too many VW executives continue to want to have it both ways regarding their U.S. workers.

“On the one hand, they obviously appreciate the efficiency and flexibility of the union-free workforce they have in Tennessee.

“On the other hand, the VW hierarchy keeps sending friendly signals to UAW bosses like Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel, who has recently strongly reaffirmed that UAW officials have not abandoned their goal of acquiring monopoly-bargaining power in Chattanooga.

“Even as VW announced the $900 million SUV investment, for example, the company also let the world know that Bernd Osterloh, the nemesis of employees who value their Right to Work, would join VW Group of America’s Board of Directors.

“The decision to grant Mr. Osterloh direct authority over American employees, plus the decision not to try to enforce a ‘neutrality’ deal that prohibited additional UAW organizing efforts for a year if the union lost the election, are signs that VW executives still like living dangerously.

“Fortunately, the successful lobbying efforts by Committee members and their allies to block enactment of federal legislation mandating ‘card check’ recognition of unions and Foundation attorneys’ legal expertise have enabled VW’s U.S. employees to beat the odds and remain UAW union-free up to now.”

Mr. Mix, who heads the Foundation as well as the Committee, vowed to remain vigilant in defending these employees’ freedom in any way possible.