VW workers file to fight UAW's election challenge in U.S.

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WASHINGTON -- Five workers from Volkswagen Group's Chattanooga plant have petitioned the U.S. National Labor Relations Board for a chance to challenge the UAW's efforts to overturn the results of this month's union election there.

The five workers, aided by attorneys at the anti-union National Right to Work Foundation, are asking for permission to dispute a UAW petition filed Friday with NLRB, in which the union calls for the results of the Feb. 12-14 election to be thrown out on the grounds that comments by Tennessee politicians before the voting improperly influenced the outcome.

The foundation says that unless these workers are heard, there might be no one to resist the UAW.

VW was formally neutral on the UAW's organizing drive, but the company openly negotiated with the union about setting up a German-style labor council to give workers in Chattanooga a say in VW's corporate decisions. The company and the union also signed a "neutrality agreement" before the vote allowing UAW organizers to make their case to workers inside the plant before the secret-ballot election.

"Based on Volkswagen management's actions leading up to this point, these workers are concerned that VW will not actively defend their vote to remain free from union boss control," Mark Mix, president of the Washington-based foundation, said in a statement on Tuesday. "That's why these workers have filed a motion to intervene."

The UAW's argument to the NLRB will hinge on comments by officials such as U.S. Senator Bob Corker, who said on Feb. 12 that if workers at the VW assembly plant voted against the union, the plant would be expanded to build a new SUV that is in development. The plant currently builds the Passat mid-sized sedan.

Frank Fischer, the plant's CEO, quickly rebutted Corker's comments, saying that the union election was unrelated to either the expansion decision or production assignments for the plant.

But the UAW says the comments may still have been enough to tip the balance. Workers voted against the union 712 to 626, with 89 percent turnout -- a result that, if it stands, represents a sharp setback to the union's efforts to organize foreign-owned auto plants in the South.

"Our issue is really with outside third parties trying to threaten and intimidate both the company and workers," UAW President Bob King told Reuters in an interview after the complaint was filed. "It was certainly not the company."

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com.

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