A panel of the National Labor Relations Board, in a 2-1 decision, has found that the maintenance worker “micro” unit at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was an appropriate unit for the election that the United Auto Workers won this past December. The Board panel majority – consisting of Members Kent Hirozawa and Lauren McFerran – applied the Board’s Specialty Healthcare standard, which essentially permits a union to organize any classification or grouping of employees with a community of interest unless other employees share an overwhelming community of interest with the group the union seeks to organize, thus making the petitioned-for unit inappropriate. Members Hirozawa and McFerran decided that the maintenance workers alone were an appropriate unit for bargaining despite the fact that they worked side by side with production workers in the plant, and were divided among the production departments and not subject to separate supervision as a unified maintenance group.
As we previously reported, on the heels of the UAW’s December 2015 election victory, the UAW filed a slew of unfair labor practice charges, including the allegation that Volkswagen was unlawfully refusing to bargain. Volkswagen was engaged in a “technical refusal to bargain,” seeking an NLRB ruling on the unit question, asserting that the maintenance-worker-only bargaining unit was inappropriate because those employees shared an overwhelming community of interest with the other employees in the wall-to-wall unit at the plant. The UAW attempted to organize all of the production employees at the Chattanooga plant but lost a facility-wide election in February 2014.
Volkswagen now has its ruling on the unit question in a one-sentence Order of the Board panel majority, with a two-page footnote and a one and one-half page dissent from Board Member Philip Miscimarra, who contended that the Board’s use of the Specialty Healthcare standard was in derogation of its role under the National Labor Relations Act. Bargaining for the Chattanooga maintenance worker unit is now one step closer. Volkswagen plans to appeal over the matter, but the UAW may have found its way to get a “beachhead” to the production group.