As outgoing United Auto Workers’ President Bob King tries to do everything within his power to unionize the American workers of German-based Volkswagen, the tactics used on VW employees have already been the subject of unfair labor practice charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board.
In addition, as the UAW states its goal to be more cooperative and to “partner” with VW and its German union, it appears that the UAW wants to defer its independence to the German automaker’s Works Council which may violate the eight-decade old National Labor Relations Act as well.
The Employer-Dominated Union
During the roaring 1920s, when unions were attempting to gain a stronger foothold in the American workplace, many employers responded by establishing so-called “company unions.”
Though they were effective in thwarting outside (or independent) unions, because they were established by companies to represent employees, “employer-dominated unions” became illegal in 1935 when Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act.
Section 8(a)(2) makes it unlawful for an employer “to dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization or contribute financial or other support to it.” This section not only outlaws “company unions” that are dominated by the employer, but also forbids an employer to contribute money to a union it favors or to give a union improper advantages that are denied to rival unions.
Now, nearly 80 years later, it appears the United Auto Workers may be trying to resurrect the company union or employer-dominated union in its desperate bid to represent the Chattanooga-based employees of Volkswagen.
In a recent article written by Peter Schaumber, a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, a nuance of the National Labor Relations Act is explained as it relates to how the style of representation that the UAW is pitching to VW’s workers is likely illegal.
This environment is intensified by the National Labor Relations Act requirement that the employer negotiate terms and conditions of employment with the workers’ union as their exclusive bargaining representative. The German model of dual representation — with an industrywide union required by law and plant-level works councils negotiating workplace terms of employment — is inconsistent with U.S. law.
In fact, the act’s broadly worded “company union” prohibition has been interpreted as barring the establishment of works councils altogether. In a 1994 case involving Electromation Inc., the NLRB, building on a 1959 Supreme Court ruling, found that the law prohibits the creation of any employer-assisted organ that engages in bilateral communications with employees on wages, hours or working conditions.
A German-like works council that represents employees — with management participating on both sides of the negotiating table — would seem to fall squarely within this proscription.
How does this legal obstacle affect the negotiations at VW’s Chattanooga plant? It means that the UAW’s promise to cede its authority to a German-style works council is empty. Union officials must know such an arrangement is prohibited by U.S. law; the plant’s workers who think otherwise run the risk of being duped. [Emphasis added.]
Ironically, as Schaumber notes in his piece, as it threatened their monopolies in the workplace, the AFL-CIO (which includes the UAW) strongly opposed the Team Act which, if it had passed in 1996, would have allowed more cooperative work environments between employees and employers without violating the National Labor Relations Act.
Nearly 20 years later, though, as the UAW tries to position itself as a “business partner” to a company like VW while lulling their employees into accepting this new style of unionism, a few people like Schaumber realize that this new style of unionism isn’t really new.
In fact, it’s rather old and may even be illegal.
“Truth isn’t mean. It’s truth.”
Andrew Breitbart (1969-2012)
Cross-posted on LaborUnionReport.com