UAW brings charges against Volkswagen for refusal to bargain

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The United Auto Workers is bringing charges against Volkswagen for refusing to bargain with a group of skilled workers who won a union vote at the German automaker's lone U.S. plant in Tennessee earlier this month.

The UAW's Local 42 says in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board that a Volkswagen representative on Monday declined to recognize or bargain with the union.

The federal labor panel last week certified the maintenance workers' 108-44 vote in favor of being represented by the UAW. It was the first time the union had won a vote among workers at a foreign-owned auto plant in the South.

Volkswagen opposed the creation of a bargaining unit for the group of workers who are responsible for repairing and maintaining machinery and robots at the Chattanooga plant. The company has announced plans to appeal the decision to allow the skilled tradesmen to create their own bargaining unit apart from the remaining 1,250 hourly production workers at the plant.

Volkswagen said the smaller bargaining unit goes against the company's "one team" approach at the plant. A union vote among all of the plant's hourly workers in February 2014 ended 712-626 against UAW representation after heavy campaigning by anti-labor politicians and groups.

A Volkswagen spokesman Monday afternoon did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the UAW's charges.

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel, who also heads the union's organizing efforts at foreign-owned automakers, expressed disappointment that the company won't bargain with the workers who "overwhelmingly" voted to be represented by the union.

"By refusing to engage in collective bargaining after a successful election, Volkswagen is not only doing a disservice to its employees but now is thumbing its nose at the federal government as well," Casteel said.

Bill Ozier, an attorney with the Nashville law firm Bass, Berry & Sims who has represented employers in labor issues for more than 40 years, in a recent interview called it unlikely that the national labor panel controlled by Democrats will overturn the creation of the skilled-trades bargaining unit at Volkswagen.

Ozier said the only way to get the case to the courts would be to refuse to bargain with the UAW. That would draw an unfair labor practices complaint from the NLRB, which could then be challenged in federal appeals court.

The NLRB decision to allow the vote by the subset of Volkswagen workers drew heavily on a 2011 ruling in favor of certified nursing assistants at a Mobile, Alabama, rehabilitation center. That decision was upheld in 2013 by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — the same court that would handle any Volkswagen challenge to NLRB decision on the UAW unit at the Tennessee plant.

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