A top UAW official said Volkswagen walked back on a promise to recognize the union at the automaker’s U.S. plant in Chattanooga -- and the union says it has a document to prove it.
UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel, the official spearheading the union’s contentious organizing push in Tennessee, said Volkswagen backed out on a 2014 promise to recognize the UAW in return for withdrawing objections filed to the National Labor Relations Board over a failed election vote that year.
He distributed a copy of a document from March 2014 signed by then-UAW President Bob King and former Volkswagen human relations head Horst Neumann. The document, first reported on by the Associated Press, was signed in March 2014 following talks with former VW CFO Hans Poetsch, now the automaker’s chairman.
“The UAW promptly fulfilled its part of the commitment” by withdrawing its objections with the NLRB and forming a new local union, Casteel said in a statement. “Volkswagen, however, never fulfilled its written and verbal commitment to recognize the union as the representative of its members. This unfilled commitment is at the heart of the ongoing disagreement between the company and the union.”
Volkswagen spokesman Scott Wilson disputed Casteel in an email to Automotive News, saying the UAW and VW “reached a consensus on how to proceed after the initial vote,” which is reflected in a plant policy established in 2014 that “provides various employee organizations with the opportunity to represent the interests of the employees in Chattanooga” but does not allow for bargaining.
“We have no contract with the UAW,” Wilson wrote.
Casteel’s comments follow years of heated disagreements between VW and the UAW, which is aiming in Chattanooga to organize its first southern U.S. plant owned by a foreign automaker. The factory employs about 1,500 people.
In 2014, 53 percent of workers at the plant voted against union representation following weeks of campaigning bywhat the UAW calls “anti-union” politicians and activist groups in the region.
Citing those groups, the UAW filed an appeal with the NLRB, saying they improperly tampered with the election. The union dropped the case soon after.
In December 2014, skilled-trades workers at the plant voted 108-44 to be represented by the UAW. In response, Volkswagen said it would not recognize the UAW until production workers also signed on for representation.
“Volkswagen continues to respect the rights of its employees to decide freely the question of union representation,” Wilson said. “But we believe that a union representation solely for the group of maintenance workers will divide the workforce and will not satisfy the shared interests of all employees -- namely, maintenance and production team members -- who are eligible to vote.”
The UAW has since challenged VW’s decision in front of the NLRB, which has ruled in favor of the union. VW has said it will take its case to the U.S. appeals court after exhausting options with the NLRB, a move Casteel described this month as a “dead-end street.”
Casteel’s comments came before Wednesday’s Volkswagen annual meeting in which Poetsch came under fire from investors over the automaker’s handling of emissions violations, with some even trying to remove him as host of the gathering.
In his statement, Casteel compared VW’s handling of the labor dispute in Tennessee with its handling of the emissions scandal.
“Whether intentional or not, Volkswagen’s behavior in these labor issues mirrors the company’s behavior in the Dieselgate scandal,” he said. “The common thread is a disregard for its corporate commitments and, in our case, a disregard for U.S. laws. We believe the company is better than this.”
Bloomberg contributed to this report.