The UAW faces a one-year waiting period, under U.S. labor law,
before it can hold another official secret ballot election at the
Chattanooga facility after workers at the plant voted 712-626 on
February 12-14 not to join the union.
The UAW challenged the results, saying the election was poisoned by
the anti-union groups. But last week, it unexpectedly abandoned its
appeal to the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, minutes before a
hearing was scheduled to begin, saying the challenge could drag on
Experts said the UAW could instead try to organize a smaller,
specialized unit of workers, work with VW to hold a private
election, or gain recognition through a process called card check.
Organizing only some workers, perhaps those in the union-friendly
body shop, would be an unusual approach for the UAW, but it could
work if the union could show that most workers in the sub-unit
wanted union representation.
"I wouldn't be shocked if a scenario like that were to unfold,"
speculated Larry Drapkin, a labor attorney at Mitchell Silberberg &
Knupp in Los Angeles, adding he had no direct knowledge of plans at
the UAW or at Volkswagen.
If the UAW tried a sub-unit election, it would still have to wait a
year, under NLRB rules.
On Wednesday, union and Volkswagen officials offered no comment on
speculation that the UAW might be able to find an alternate route
into the VW plant.
The UAW's narrow defeat was a stinging rebuke to the union, setting
back its years-long effort to organize workers for the first time in
a foreign-owned auto assembly plant in the U.S. South, a
traditionally anti-union region.
The loss was even more surprising as VW did not oppose the UAW. But
VW's neutrality enhanced the role played in the election campaign by
assorted anti-union forces, including Republican politicians and
pressure groups from Washington, D.C.
The option of a "private" election that does not involve the NLRB
could include all plant workers or just some of them, said Wilma
Liebman, former chair of the NLRB.
This approach would not be subject to the year-long waiting period
and would be conducted by a neutral third-party, such as the
American Arbitration Association. The UAW would have to show that
the majority of workers in the proposed bargaining unit favor
joining the union.
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"Through a private election, the UAW might want to carve out a group
of workers among whom it has considerable support. That's a possible
strategy," said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at
Clark University in Massachusetts.
Under the "card check" option, a union presents an employer with
cards signed by workers expressing union support.
Drapkin said VW's desire to make Chattanooga's workers part of the
manufacturer's Global Works Council, a German-style management-labor
committee, could motivate VW to accept a card check. Most experts
agree that U.S. workers would need union representation to join the
VW officials have said they would prefer a secret ballot election,
Any of these scenarios would require VW and the UAW to void a
January agreement that the union would refrain from organizing the
plant's workers for a year after the February election, unless
another union tried to do so.
"The issue is do you use the government NLRB route, which the
employer can insist on, or do you, as an employer and a union, agree
to do some other method that legally may be used to determine the
wishes of the employees," said Ron Meisburg, a former NLRB member
and one-time general counsel.
Meisburg said a secret ballot election, particularly one conducted
by the NLRB, has "the highest degree of integrity" in determining
Meisburg declined to comment on the possibility of the UAW seeking
to organize a portion of the Chattanooga workers.
(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker in Washington, D.C.;
by Kevin Drawbaugh and Richard Chang)
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