As many in the employer community are aware, late last month the United Auto Workers won the right to represent a group of maintenance employees working at Volkswagen’s auto manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The union, which lost handily in an earlier bid to represent the entire plant, had asked the NLRB to sanction another election, but in a “micro-unit” of only the maintenance employees. To the surprise of many, the Board Regional Director handling the case granted the union’s request. In his view, the micro-unit was allowable under the Board’s controversialSpecialty Healthcare standard.

Volkswagen has challenged the Regional Director’s decision and filed a request for review with the full NLRB in Washington. The ruling has drawn such interest that late last month a confederation of influential employer trade groups took the unprecedented step of filing an amicus brief with the NLRB urging the Board to accept and consider VW’s request for review. The groups, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the National Federation of Independent Business, urged the Board to reconsider its Specialty Healthcare standard and to reverse the Regional Director’s decision. Their brief asserts that the Specialty Healthcare standard violates the fundamental principles of the National Labor Relations Act by ceding to the union the Board’s responsibility to decide what bargaining unit is appropriate, and allows for the “balkanization” of employer workplaces by allowing for the creation of multiple micro-units that will cause endless negotiations, conflicting union demands and burdensome administrative obligations.

The Board has yet to rule on VW’s request or to comment on the arguments raised by the amici. Any decision it may make is sure to generate significant reaction, as a validation of the UAW’s micro-unit strategy in Chattanooga would signal just how far the Board has gone in establishing Specialty Healthcare as the prevailing standard in bargaining unit cases.