Labor Attorney Says Workplace Situation At Chattanooga Volkswagen Could Still Change

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - by Hollie Webb

Labor and Employment Attorney Dan Gilmore told members of the Hixson Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that, even after the vote by Volkswagen employees not to affiliate with the UAW, the situation could still change.

The UAW has filed an appeal, asking to have another election, without what it has called "outside interference." In a statement, the UAW said the reason for the appeal was the "coordinated and widely publicized coercive campaign conducted by politicians and outside organizations to deprive Volkswagen workers of their federally protected right to join a union."

In response to the UAW's appeal, two organizations have filed motions to the National Labor Relations Board against the UAW. Funded by the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, three Volkswagen employees and Attorneys Bill Horton and William Messenger said in their motion that Volkswagen unfairly helped the UAW during the time before the election.

The second group pursuing legal action is Southern Momentum, a nonprofit founded to stop the UAW from becoming part of Volkswagen. Southern Momentum filed a motion to the NLRB asking for the UAW appeal to be denied and the election results to stand.Volkswagen released a statement saying it does not support either group.

Attorney Gilmore said it could be months before the election results are either ruled as final or reversed. He said the whole situation is "uncharted territory" and that "things may happen that have never happened before."

Currently, under United States labor laws, a Works Council cannot exist without a union. Attorney Gilmore said, "It's important to know that the Chattanooga plant is one of the only ones in the world that does not have a Works Council."

He said in Germany the Works Council is regarded as important because of the structure for feedback it provides. He also said the election process here is "unusual" because the UAW was allowed to go into the facility and speak with employees. He said it was "very unusual, in my experience, to have that kind of arrangement."

He said most companies are very vocally opposed to unionization. He also pointed out that the median time frame between a petition being filed and a scheduled election is 38 days; At Volkswagen, the election occurred 11 days after the petition was filed by UAW.

He said, "The objective was to get it over with so Volkswagen could have their Works Council."

A man in the audience said the concept of the Works Council was actually an American idea introduced in Germany after World War II. He said, "One of the key differences in a Works Council and a union is the Works Council is non adversarial." He said it encourages employees and company management to work together rather than fighting.

Attorney Gilmore said, looking at the future, several things could possibly happen. After a year from the petition filing date, another union would be legally able to try to represent the Volkswagen employees. He also said laws could potentially change to allow a Works Council without a union. However, he pointed out that getting anything through Congress could be a challenge.

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