After a failed attempt last year to organize 1,400 workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant, the United Auto Workers decided to take a different tack. The union began an effort to organize the plant’s 164 maintenance workers, who maintain and repair the highly automated equipment that keeps the lines running.
Volkswagen, however, tried to block that effort, arguing that the maintenance workers’ duties and role at the plant were not distinct enough from the plant’s 1,246 production workers to merit a separate election.
The UAW Local 42 contested that decision with the National Labor Relations Board, and on Wednesday, the NLRB’s regional director sided with the union and set the election for Dec. 3 and 4.
Volkswagen has the right to appeal the decision.
The NLRB said the maintenance workers met these key criteria for holding their own union election:
They are readily identifiable as a group and meet the requirements for a “community of interest” even though maintenance workers in different area of the plant do not interact with each other in their work. Maintenance workers share a job title and all perform maintenance and repairs. They may work on different machines, but they all share “common initial hiring criteria and training,” the decision said. Whether they do maintenance in the body weld or assembly shop, their schedules are consistent—they all provide round the clock coverage and work when production employees are on break or not working.
Being grouped with the production employees as a larger unit would not be an equally or more appropriate classification. The maintenance workers have their own department at the plant and report to their own supervisors. Their job duties, pay scale, schedules and HR department are different from the production workers, and their jobs require them to complete specialized training in the plant’s apprenticeship program (the production workers are not).
In response to the NLRB decision, UAW spokesman Gary Casteel said in a statement that “it’s unfortunate that, in the middle of Volkswagen’s widening emissions scandal, we had to spend weeks debating workers’ rights that clearly are protected under federal law.” He called VW’s attempt to thwart the election “a waste of employees’ time and energy, and a waste of government resources.”
Volkswagen released a statement that it had been informed of the decision and “the company is reviewing the content of the Regional Director’s decision and is considering its options.”
The UAW established Local 42 at the Chattanooga plant in December 2014, after the failed election, but without a collective bargaining agreement.