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Were a majority of VW’s American workers coerced and threatened into signing UAW cards?

If it's illegal when a company coerces employees, what about a union?

With its future hinging on unionizing the American factories of foreign automakers, the United Auto Workers has been desperately courting Volkwagen’s 2700 employees in Tennessee since 2011.

UAW Foreign Cars Sign

According to news reports on Wednesday, a majority of Volkswagen AG’s employees in Chattanooga have signed union authorization cards indicating the desire “to join VW’s Global Works Council and supporting cooperative and collaborative relations with the company.”

The UAW is claiming that the cards are as valid as the workers having voted in an election.

The question that is not being posed, however, is: Were the majority of VW’s workers’ signatures gathered based threats, coercion and fear tactics?

You may recall that, back in June, Stephan Wolf, a high-ranking German union official with Volkswagen AG issued an ultimatum to VW’s American workers in the press:

“We will only agree to an expansion of the [Tennessee] site or any other model contract when it is clear how to proceed with the employees’ representatives in the United States.”

Unlike the U.S., under Germany’s co-determination labor relations model, unions have seats on corporations’ boards of directors and, as such, have a say in how a company is managed.

via Automotive News:

Employee representatives at VW also get a say in new products and investments through the company’s global works council, which includes representatives from all of its organized plants.

That may give labor leaders at VW enough power to follow through on the threat made by Wolf, the deputy chairman on the global works council.

This comment was quickly seized on by the UAW’s president, Bob King, who followed up with:

If I was a worker, if I was a member of the Chattanooga community, and I wanted to have the best chance of getting new investment and new product, I would want a voice on the world employee council,” King said. “I would want somebody there representing the interests of Chattanooga. I wouldn’t want a decision made where every other plant in the world has representation there, and I don’t have somebody speaking up for me.” [Emphasis added.]

What labor leaders implied was that without representation on VW’s employee council through the UAW, Chattanooga would not receive the hoped-for expansion.

This statement was likely repeated over and over again by UAW organizers in order to coerce them into signing cards and, if that is the case, it could very well be a violation of the Tennessee employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

In other words, if VW’s German union has the influence to steer VW’s board to take away jobs (or future opportunities) from Tennessee workers in retaliation for them not unionizing, it could be as bad as an employer who threatened to take away opportunities if employees were to unionize–bearing in mind that, in this case, the German union has power in managing the direction of the company.

According to the NLRB’s own guidebook on the National Labor Relations Act:

Section 8(b)(1)(A) forbids a labor organization or its agents “to restrain or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7.”…

…Union conduct that is reasonably calculated to restrain or coerce employees in their Section 7 rights violates Section 8(b)(1)(A) whether it succeeds in actually restraining or coercing employees….

…Examples of violations of Section 8(b)(1)(A). Examples of restraint or coercion that violate Section 8(b)(1)(A) when done by a union or its agents include the following:

  • Mass picketing in such numbers that nonstriking employees are physically barred from entering the plant.
  • Acts of force or violence on the picket line, or in connection with a strike.
  • Threats to do bodily injury to nonstriking employees.
  • * Threats to employees that they will lose their jobs unless they support the union’s activities.
  • Statement to employees who oppose the union that the employees will lose their jobs if the union wins a majority in the plant.
  • Entering into an agreement with an employer that recognizes the union as exclusive bargaining representative when it has not been chosen by a majority of the employees.
  • Fining or expelling members for crossing a picket line that is unlawful under the Act or that violates a no-strike agreement.
  • Fining employees for crossing a picket line after they resigned from the union.
  • Fining or expelling members for filing unfair labor practice charges with the Board or for participating in an investigation conducted by the Board.
  • …Section 8(b)(2) makes it an unfair labor practice for a labor organization to cause an employer to discriminate against an employee in violation of Section 8(a)(3). As discussed earlier, Section 8(a)(3) prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee in regard to wages, hours, and other conditions of employment for the purpose of encouraging or discouraging membership in a labor organization.

    To find that a union caused an employer to discriminate, it is not necessary to show that any express demand was spoken. A union’s conduct, accompanied by statements advising or suggesting that action is expected of an employer, may be enough to find a violation of this section if the union’s action can be shown to be a causal factor in the employer’s discrimination. [Emphasis added.]

    Normally, a union–particularly a foreign union–could not threaten that, if workers don’t choose union representation, they will lose their jobs…or opportunities of jobs. Normally, only an employer would have the ability to make a threat like that.

    However, normally, unions don’t have the power that Volkswagen AG’s union does and, in this case, VW’s German union has every bit of control over investment that an American employer would.

    Therefore, while the German union is a “union,” here in the U.S., its threatening statements would carry the same amount of weight with workers that an company’s executive threats would carry.

    If Tennessee’s workers really do not want the UAW as their representative, they do have the right to file an unfair labor practice charge with Obama’s National Labor Relations Board.

    While the union-appointees controlling NLRB may be inclined to dismiss the workers’ charge, they may be reminded of another high-profile case, wherein the NLRB used statements made in the press by a company’s executives to prosecute a company.

    That case was Boeing, and the NLRB’s rational was that Boeing retaliated against its unionized workers by the executives stating that, without a long contract with a no-strike clause, they would put the work in South Carolina. This, according to the NLRB, was retaliation against Boeing’s unionized workforce having exercised their NLRA Section Seven rights.

    In the case of VW, a powerful union with control over the company’s investment decisions threatened workers that if they did not exercise their Section Seven rights a certain way (by getting representation), their plant might not get a hoped-for expansion.

    If that’s not coercive, what is?
    __________________________
    “Truth isn’t mean. It’s truth.”
    Andrew Breitbart (1969-2012)

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    Cross-posted on LaborUnionReport.com.

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