The United Auto Workers (UAW) union is challenging a vote by employees at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., to reject its bid to represent them. In an appeal filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Friday, the union said that “interference by politicians and outside special interest groups” had swayed the vote.
In particular, the appeal took aim at Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and former Chattanooga mayor, who suggested that a “no” vote would lead to a Volkswagen expansion in the state.
Last week Corker entered the fray over the union vote when he said he had been “assured” that the plant would be given a new SUV production line if it rejected union representation from UAW.
The UAW bid was defeated in a 712-626 vote, even though the German automaker is generally considered labor-friendly.
“It’s an outrage that politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that would grow jobs in Tennessee,” UAW President Bob King said.
The union had faced a midnight Friday deadline for filing the action with the NLRB. The rejection by the workers dealt a harsh setback to the union, especially since Volkswagen did not oppose the unionization drive.
The Chattanooga plant is Volkswagen’s only factory in the U.S. and one of the company’s few in the world without some form of union representation. The company has been open about its desire to establish a German-style works council at the plant.
“Sen. Corker’s conduct was shameful and undertaken with utter disregard for the rights of the citizens of Tennessee and surrounding states that work at Volkswagen,” the UAW’s filing asserted. “The clear message of the campaign was that voting for the union would result in stagnation for the Chattanooga plant, with no new product, no job security, and withholding of state support for its expansion.”
Corker defended his high-profile opposition to the UAW’s overture. “The workers at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant spoke very clearly last week, so we are disappointed the UAW is ignoring their decision and has filed this objection,” he said Friday in a statement.
Tennessee Republican officials, including Gov. Bill Haslam and several state lawmakers, were also critical of the UAW overture.
A Volkswagen spokesman in Chattanooga, Scott Wilson, declined to comment on the appeal.
A spokesman for Haslam would only say that “the governor is focused on working with Volkswagen on future growth in Tennessee.”
The UAW challenge comes days after the top labor representative on Volkswagen’s supervisory board suggested that the anti-union atmosphere fostered by Southern conservatives could lead the company to make future investments elsewhere. Worker representatives make up half of the board that has control over all management decisions at Volkswagen.
Volkswagen has announced plans to spend $7 billion in North America over the next five years.
The vote against the UAW was a setback to the union’s goal of expanding into foreign-owned auto plants in the U.S., particularly those in the South.
The union included various news accounts of remarks by Corker and other Tennessee Republican officials in its filing. It called upon the NLRB to “set aside the election and order that a new election be held.”
Al Jazeera and wire services