- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2014

Just five months after losing a showdown organizing vote to establish a beachhead in the booming Southern auto industry, the United Auto Workers announced Thursday it will set up a new local for the non-organized employees of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant.

And it’s doing so with the blessing of VW officials.

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel told reporters in a press briefing Thursday that the union was intent on moving forward from the February election defeat and focusing on the employees’ needs, while preparing for the day when the union can win a majority vote to represent the plant.

“We put the past in the rearview mirror and are focusing on the future,” Mr. Casteel said.

The union’s organizing drive came in the face of intense opposition from many Tennessee state officials, who warned it could make the state less attractive to the foreign investors who have flocked to Southern right-to-work states in recent years.

According to Mr. Casteel, the UAW and Volkswagen reached an accord that the German company would officially recognize the union if a majority of employees signed up, which would make it the first unionized foreign-auto plant in the South.

But union opponents say the UAW is trying to push its way into the company despite losing the representation vote by a 712-626 margin.

Mr. Casteel contended Thursday that the UAW had a majority of Volkswagen employees ready to back the union before the vote, blaming outside pressure from conservative politicians, specifically Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam, both Republicans, for swaying the vote.

The UAW filed a challenge to the February vote with the National Labor Relations Board, but dropped the challenge in April on the morning a hearing was scheduled by the agency’s board.

Mr. Casteel said that this time there is no opportunity for third-party interference. “We’re not going to go back there and do that again, and we’re not going to talk about it a lot. We’ve said we’re focused on the future.”

A spokesman for Mr. Haslam told The Washington Times that the governor’s office understood that there was no formal agreement between the company and UAW adding, “It is most appropriate for the company to speak for itself on this issue.”

Mr. Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, told The Detroit News the union was “taking some steps to try to save face.”

The organizing battle has been scrambled because VW did not oppose the union, looking to create a German-style “works council” at the Tennessee plant and seeing the UAW as the vehicle to do so.

Several Volkswagen plant employees spoke at the news conference, offering their support for the local and speaking out against union opponents.

“This creation of Local 42 isn’t about Washington, Detroit, or Nashville. This is about Chattanooga and our team members at Volkswagen,” said Kay Gray, an assembly-line worker at the plant.

Still, union opponents said it was incredible that the UAW would proceed so soon after losing the vote.

“I’m extremely disappointed that the union is not respecting the wishes of the workers, who said loudly and clearly they did not want the UAW in their workplace,” Matt Patterson, president of the Center for Worker Freedom told The Tennessean newspaper, which first reported on the new union move.

“If the union truly respects the workers, like they say they do, then they will respect the decision these workers made,” he added.

According to Mr. Casteel, the new local will operate like any other, developing its own bylaws and electing officers. There will not be a dues collection until 30 days after the first contract is approved, which won’t happen until a majority of employees sign on with the union and a contract is negotiated.

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