Anti-Union Vote at VW Plant a Case Study in Need for Secret Ballot

February 19, 2014 - 2:27 PM

Chattanooga Volkswagen plant

Autoworkers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, TN plant. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Volkswagen employees in Tennessee who rejected the United Automobile Workers’ (UAW) two-year attempt to unionize their Chattanooga plant exposed “the inaccuracy of the card check process,” says the head of the legal foundation representing eight of the autoworkers.

“It was a victory for the workers in Chattanooga because, you know, notwithstanding how the deck was stacked against them by both management and the UAW union officials, the workers got a chance to express themselves by secret ballot," Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), told CNSNews.com.

"And when the votes were counted, all of the stories that the union painted about how they had a majority and how everyone was on board turned out to be false...

“I think this is a great case study for the importance of maintaining the integrity of the secret ballot process,” Mix continued.  “I mean, despite what union officials said in Chattanooga, despite claiming a majority of the people, despite having a compliant management that is backing them up through this whole process, when the workers got a chance to vote in private, the UAW was denied representational privileges at this plant.

“So it does, I think, point out the importance of maintaining the secret ballot and it lays bare the inaccuracy of the card check process.”

The New York Times described the results of the Feb.14th secret ballot vote – in which Volkswagen workers voted 712 to 626 against unionization - as “an especially stinging blow for the U.A.W.”

At a press conference following the vote, UAW president Bob King blamed the union’s defeat on “outside interference” from Sen. Bob Corker( R-Tenn.) and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who both predicted that unionizing the plant would hurt the state’s economy. Corker also warned that the German automaker would move production of its new mid-sized SUV line to Mexico if the Chattanooga plant became unionized.

But Mix told CNSNews.com that the secret ballot results prove that the UAW never had a majority of the plant’s workers on its side despite spending a reported $5 million on its two-year effort to unionize them.

“When the union claimed the majority of workers supported them, they never presented the cards to Volkswagen management, they never presented the cards to anybody as far as we know, so there was really no clear evidence that they had the cards they needed to present to Volkswagen for immediate recognition as the bargaining agent for all the employees,” Mix said.

Non-unionized workers at the Chattanooga plant already enjoy higher entry-level wages than UAW members working for the Big Three in Detroit, Mix pointed out, attributing some of the anti-union sentiment to the research on the UAW done by the Tennessee autoworkers.

“The UAW’s history of being very political, the UAW’s history with the management of the Big Three automakers in Detroit, and obviously two of them went bankrupt, the story of the Pennsylvania Volkswagen plant that was producing Rabbits that went out of business [after several labor disputes], the story of UAW losing 75 percent of their members since 1979, all of those details I think went into the decision-making process of the workers there,” Mix said.

Last September, the NRTW Foundation filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on behalf of eight Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga who complained in an affidavit that UAW officials used “coercion and intimidation” to force them into signing cards accepting union representation.

An anti-union petition circulated by workers and signed by 611 Volkswagen employees was also filed with the NLRB, Mix said. Just nine days later, the union election was held at the request of German owned-company.

“This was his [King’s] real opportunity, because he had a compliant management and he had a very aggressive organizing campaign on the ground,” and had previously said he wanted his legacy to be the unionization of a foreign-owned automotive plant in at least one of the nation’s 24 right-to-work states, Mix told CNSNews.com. Foreign-owned automakers account for 30 percent of auto sales in the U.S.

UAW officials “are not interested in allowing workers to vote anymore, because oftentimes when workers go behind a curtain and are allowed to make their own decision free of anyone looking at them or finding out what they did, union officials haven’t been very successful,” Mix pointed out.

That's why the card check system is the "primary method" used by unions to organize workers in the U.S., he said, adding that "it’s been exciting to see what employees who have the courage to stand up and exercise their rights can do."