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With National Right to Work Foundation assistance, anti-union employees sue VW, UAW

By Lisa Milam-Perez, J.D.

In the latest development in the ongoing effort by the United Auto Workers to represent workers at a Chattanooga, Tennessee, Volkswagen plant, employees opposed to the union’s organizing effort have filed a lawsuit contending a labor-management neutrality agreement between the UAW and Volkswagen Group of America in the lead-up to last month’s union election violated the LMRA.

Specifically, the employees, in a complaint filed on their behalf by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, contend the company unlawfully provided “things of value” to the union in violation of Sec. 302 of the Act in order to assist the union’s organizing effort. In an “organizing agreement” with the UAW reached in January, Volkswagen allegedly agreed to hold a “captive audience” meeting in which it announced its support for formation of a “works council” at the Tennessee plant and also allowed the UAW to solicit employees. The deal also granted the union access to company property for organizing purposes, and the company agreed to remain neutral during the organizing campaign. The complaint also contends the company and union violated the LMRA by jointly petitioning the NLRB for an expedited election.

In turn, the union, for its part, allegedly agreed to delegate many of its duties as bargaining representative to the “works council,” agreed not to strike and to limit its organizing activities, and agreed that first contract negotiations would be guided by the company’s goal of “maintaining and where possible enhancing” the cost advantages that Volkswagen currently enjoys over its competitors.

These exchanged promises were of significant value to both parties, including monetary value, according to the complaint. And, despite the union’s election loss, the UAW filed election objections, which keeps the potential for a rerun election in play. The plaintiffs contend the organizing agreement between the Volkswagen and UAW remains in effect — creating “an imminent threat that Plaintiffs and their co-workers will become exclusively represented by the UAW against their will.”

Accordingly, the plaintiffs seek preliminary and permanent injunctive relief barring Volkswagen and the UAW from enforcing the organizing agreement, prohibiting the union from seeking organizing assistance from the company, and also restricting Volkswagen from providing such assistance. The employees also seek a declaration that the organizing agreement is unlawful and unenforceable and that, in entering into the deal, both defendants violated Sec. 302.

Union response. In a March 13 statement, UAW President Bob King contended the lawsuit was “baseless,” adding that “The National Right to Work Legal Foundation has a history of frivolous lawsuits trying to stop workers from joining the UAW.” King also said the union had already demonstrated its majority status at the Chattanooga plant at the time it entered into the neutrality agreement, and that the agreement would have been lawful at any rate, “just like many other neutrality agreements the UAW and other unions have negotiated with employers throughout the United States.”

The complaint, Burton v United Auto Workers, was filed in a federal district court in Tennessee.