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'Non-union union' at Volkswagen plant loses certification

Posted 1:14 p.m. Thursday
Updated 1:15 p.m. Thursday

— A group billing itself as an alternative to the United Auto Workers union at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee has failed to meet minimum enrollment standards under the German automaker's internal labor policy.

Volkswagen announced to workers on Thursday morning that the UAW has once again been verified as representing at least 45 percent of workers at the plant, qualifying the union for the top tier of the policy, which enables the UAW to interact regularly with management and have a meeting space within the plant.

But Volkswagen has declined to recognize the UAW for the purpose of collective bargaining, and the union has expressed no interest in holding another contentious election at the plant.

The company also said that the rival American Council of Employees no longer meets its policy's bottom tier, which requires the representation of 15 percent of workers.

Volkswagen's lone assembly plant in the United States is ramping up for the production of a new seven-seater SUV seen as key to reviving sales that have flagged since its diesel emissions cheating scandal.

The UAW has been thwarted for decades in its efforts to organize workers at foreign-owned auto plants in the South, and Republican politicians in Tennessee and across the region are eager to keep it that way.

The UAW narrowly lost a union vote at the plant in 2014, blaming what it called "outside interference" by anti-labor activists organized by a group called Southern Momentum.

Leaders and supporters of Southern Momentum later formed the American Council of Employees to try to counteract the UAW's organizing efforts at the plant. A lawyer filing paperwork on behalf of the group with the U.S. Department of Labor last year touted his expertise in "union avoidance" on his firm's website, and Maury Nicely, another partner at the law firm, described ACE as a "non-union union" that has no interest in pursuing collective bargaining rights for Volkswagen workers.

In last year's filings, ACE said it had 381 members at the plant. Meanwhile, the UAW reported a membership of 816 members, or 55 percent of the blue-collar workforce. Steve Cochran, the vice president of UAW Local 42, said Thursday that the union retains a solid majority of hourly employees at the plant.

Volkswagen filed an appeal this month of a National Labor Relations Board ruling that it was engaging in unfair labor practices at the plant by refusing to negotiate with about 160 skilled trades workers who voted last year to be represented by the UAW.

Volkswagen argues that labor decisions should only be made by the plant's entire hourly workforce of 1,400 hourly employees. But the NLRB said earlier this year that the workers who maintain and repair machinery and robots at the plant "share a community of interest" in terms of qualifications, training, supervision and hours that are distinct from production workers at the facility's assembly, body weld and paint shops.

Gary Casteel, the UAW's secretary-treasurer, accused Volkswagen of sharpening its anti-union stance since the scandal.

"It's overdue time for the company to meet the local union at the bargaining table," Casteel said after Volkswagen appealed.

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