Feb 15, 2024 - Economy

Volkswagen on factory unionization efforts: "Neutral doesn't mean silent"

The logo of Volkswagen is perched high atop a metal sign, looming over a factory

The UAW is attempting to organize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Photo: Mark Elias/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Volkswagen plans to speak up when it spots what it calls "misinformation" in the UAW's campaign to organize the company's plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Why it matters: The two sides are barreling toward a showdown over whether the factory should be unionized, marking the third such collision in the last decade.

  • It would be the first unionized automotive assembly plant in the U.S. not owned by the traditional Detroit Three automakers: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.

Driving the news: The automaker plans to remain "neutral" in the UAW's organizing campaign, a Volkswagen official said — with notable caveats.

  • "Neutral doesn't mean silent. Neutral means we're impartial to what the employees decide," the official said. But "we'll continue to express our voice directly" and call out any "misinformation" in the UAW's campaign.
  • The official — who was not authorized to be identified publicly — also said the company wants a vote by workers, meaning it would not willingly recognize a union based solely on a majority of the workforce signing UAW cards.

State of play: The UAW said last week that it had already surpassed the 50% mark in its card signing campaign at the Chattanooga plant, where about 4,100 employees are eligible to join.

  • A simple majority is needed to form a union.

The other side: The UAW has already filed multiple complaints with the National Labor Relations Board accusing VW of unfair labor practices.

  • The union has accused VW of "illegally intimidating, interfering with, and spying on pro-union workers" as well as implementing "unlawful company policies" on issues such as social media, dress code and flyers.
  • Volkswagen denied the claims.
  • "Volkswagen can say they're "neutral," but actions speak louder than words," Gary Swafford, a Volkswagen worker in the plant's paint department, said in a statement provided to Axios by the UAW. "The reality is that Volkswagen does not want VW Chattanooga workers to have a real say over our working conditions and our livelihoods. The company has a long track record of opposing workers' efforts to secure a stable future for ourselves."

Flashback: Volkswagen workers narrowly decided against joining the UAW in 2014 and 2019.

  • But the union is hoping that this time is different after it won record contracts following a simultaneous strike against the Detroit Three.
  • Much of the plant's workforce has turned over since the previous elections.

What we're watching: Will the UAW attempt to form a union without a vote?

  • The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an anti-union group, says a 2023 decision by the NLRB could open the door for the UAW to avoid an official election if it secures signed cards from a majority of workers.
  • The NLRB ruling "means that the board will now issue bargaining orders" to replace elections "as a remedy for unlawful union-busting when the union already established majority support," the Teamsters union said last year in a statement.

The bottom line: "We would like a vote," the VW official said.

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