Workers Sue to End Collusion Between Big Labor and Big Business

VW employees ask federal judge to intervene in efforts by VW and UAW to unionize Tennessee plant

Workers assemble Volkswagen Passat sedans at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. / AP

BY: Bill McMorris Follow @FBillMcMorris
March 13, 2014 11:51 am

Autoworkers who voted down a United Auto Workers (UAW) unionization attempt at a Volkswagen (VW) plant are asking a federal judge to end collusion between the labor union and the car company.

Workers represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation are fighting to preserve a 53-47 percent vote that denied the union access to a Tennessee auto factory. The union isappealing the election to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with the perceived blessing of the company, according to the suit.

“UAW union officials and Volkswagen management have colluded to deprive these workers of a fair vote from the start,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

The company’s continued support of the union “creates an imminent threat that plaintiffs and their co-workers will become exclusively represented by the UAW against their will,” according to the suit.

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.

“The lawsuit filed by the National Right to Work Legal Foundation is baseless,” the union said in a statement. “The UAW’s election agreement with Volkswagen Group of America would still be lawful, just like many other neutrality agreements the UAW and other unions have negotiated with employers throughout the United States.”

The foundation said it took the case to support workers who oppose big labor joining with big business.

“Enough is enough, which is why these workers are seeking to prevent further VW assistance to the UAW’s organizing efforts,” Mix said in a statement.