Last fall, Volkswagen adopted a Community Organization Engagement Policy at its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, setting out a "tiered" corporate policy on employee organizations that do not satisfy the majority threshold required for bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act. In December, the United Auto Workers union presented evidence to Volkswagen that it represented more than 45 percent of the Chattanooga plant's blue-collar workforce and thus was entitled under the policy to the highest level of access to management and employees at the plant. The Union claims that it has since obtained the support of more than 50 percent of the workforce.
Now, the American Council of Employees, a local group opposed to the UAW, has been certified as representing more than 15 percent of the plant's hourly and salaried workers. That level of certification entitles the ACE to access, but at a lower level than the UAW gets.
This differential treatment of employee organizations based on level of support presents legal questions that may be novel. Volkswagen has been open about seeking to create a European-style "works council" in Chattanooga. Members-only or minority unions are a regular part of labor relations in Europe and other parts of the globe, but their status under U.S. law is an open question.
The UAW's goal, of course, is to have Volkswagen voluntarily recognize it as the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit of blue-collar employees at the plant. The Union has faced stiff opposition from some employees, including employees who make up the core of the ACE, and politicians and local interests in Chattanooga and in Tennessee.
In February 2014, the UAW lost a Board election by a 712-626 vote of blue-collar employees. After that defeat, the Union formed a local "members-only" uniondedicated to the organizing effort at Volkswagen, and is seeking to make inroads at all the large, foreign auto manufacturers with U.S. operations. The UAW also seeks to organize suppliers to the automotive industry that have operations in the Southern United States.