Officials with the National Labor Relations Board have recommended that allegations be dismissed against Volkswagen Group of America and the United Auto Workers Union.
With help from the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, employees had filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against Volkswagen America and the United Auto Workers Union, stemming from the efforts to form a union at the local plant.
One complaint alleged, in part, that statements by German officials have illegally coerced workers into representation by the United Auto Workers Union.
The other complaint said that UAW representatives got workers to sign union authorization cards by coercion and misrepresentation and used union cards signed too long ago to be legally valid.
Volkswagen officials said they take the NLRB decision as confirmation of their legal position. And VW leaders said in the statement that they will continue to work toward a unique representation model. According to the VW Chattanooga statement:
We wish to reiterate that as a general principle, Volkswagen supports the right of employees to representation at all its plants and is in favor of good cooperation with the trade union or unions represented at its plants.
For this reason, Volkswagen is currently working on an innovative model for the representation of employees’ interests which will be suitable for the USA. This model will be based on positive experience in Germany and other countries where the Volkswagen Group is active.
A UAW representative wasn't available Thursday afternoon.
Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, said he was disappointed but not shocked at the result that the charges were "ignored."
"It’s becoming very clear that the NLRB holds intimidation aimed at individual workers to a lesser standard," he said via email. "Regardless, we plan to continue to assist VW workers in their fight to choose their own representation without coercion from UAW officials or Volkswagen management."
Decision on charges against Volkswagen Group of America
In the advice memorandum from the National Labor Relations Board, officials outlined statements and actions from several different Volkswagen AG leaders.
It also references a booklet that was distributed at the Chattanooga plant that contains a letter from Berthold Huber, IG Metall president and Volkswagen AG supervisory board member.
In the booklet, which circulated around the plant in May 2013, leaders of the German union IG Metall encouraged local workers to organize.
In the booklet, Huber wrote about ongoing efforts of IG Metall to communicate with the Chattanooga employees to explain the German works council system.
He also noted that direct communication between workers’ representatives globally is important for good working conditions. He endorsed the UAW and signed the letter as "IG Metall, President," according to the NLRB documents.
NLRB officials also noted comments by Bernd Osterloh, who is the Volkswagen AG General and Group Works Council chairman, when he was speaking as head of VW’s Global Works Council, saying that the works council was important and he would continue talking with the UAW. He also mentioned the possibility of a second vehicle at the local plant, saying he knew it was important to Chattanooga.
Several media outlets reported that Wolf said, "We will only agree to an extension of the site or other model contract when it is clear how to proceed with the employees’ representatives in the United States," according to the NLRB memorandum.
The NLRB documents also reference at least a dozen occasions in which Volkswagen officials said that the decision on unionization was totally up to employees.
The NLRB officials found that "there is nothing unlawful about such statements of preference for unionization in general or the union in particular."
They also wrote in the memorandum that all statements were lawful, regardless of who said them or on whose behalf they were said.
"The board and courts evaluate the totality of the employer’s conduct to determine whether it tends to inhibit employees in their free choice regarding a bargaining representative and/or to interfere with the representatives’ maintenance of an arms-length relationship with it," according to the NLRB documents.
The NLRB did find two possible exceptions to the finding that there were no violations, which were statements from Wolf and Osterloh.
"These statements, as reported, could perhaps be understood to condition future expansion of the Chattanooga facility on the employees’ representational status," according to the documents.
But, even assuming those statements were a violation, the "employer cannot be held responsible for the statements of German union representatives who are members of VW AG’s supervisory board."
The National Labor Relations Act "does not apply beyond the geographic boundaries of the United States and is limited to locations in which the U.S. has sovereignty or some measure of legislative control," according to the documents.
Decision on charges against United Auto Workers Union
UAW leaders claimed they have a majority support for representation at the Chattanooga plant, and they have "demanded recognition" from Volkswagen, according to the NLRB documents.
But VW hasn’t agreed to recognize the union, and the two parties haven’t entered into any neutrality agreement or contract, also according to the documents.
The employees who filed the charges against the UAW asserted that union leaders got the majority by misrepresentation and by relying on "ambiguous authorization cards" and cards that were signed long ago.
Two of the employees signed authorization cards and then wanted them back.
The NLRB found that the union took enough steps to show employees that their disputed cards wouldn’t be counted.
NLRB officials wrote in the memorandum of advice that there is no evidence of unlawful restraint or coercion by the UAW.
The board’s opinion said that the charging parties only proved that some of the cards should be invalid, according to the NLRB.
"While some or all of these assertions, if corroborated, might invalidate some of the authorization cards, none of them allege any conduct that would constitute unlawful restraint or coercion," according to the NLRB.
Updated @ 6:38 p.m. on 1/23/14 to add more information.
Updated @ 10:35 p.m. on 1/23/14 to indicate the NLRB has only recommended dismissal of the charges.