UAW adds to unfair labour practices allegations at Volkswagen

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The United Auto Workers alleges that Volkswagen has failed to consult with a newly elected maintenance workers union on a range of issues from vending machine prices to out-of-pocket prescription drug costs despite a union victory at the plant in December.

The union in filings with the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday also alleges that a black employee was fired for taking photographs to support a claim of workplace discrimination and promised that “more charges will accumulate” until Volkswagen agrees to enter into collective bargaining with skilled-trades workers at the German automaker’s lone U.S. plant.

The UAW charges in the NLRB filing that Volkswagen is making workplace changes without consultation with the maintenance workers who voted in December for union representation.

“If Volkswagen maintains this position, more and more charges will accumulate and the company will further damage its relations with employees,” UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said in an email. “We remain hopeful that Volkswagen will comply with the law and move forward soon, in good faith.”

Volkswagen is appealing the decision that allowed the group of roughly 160 workers specializing in the repair and maintenance of machinery and robots to hold a unionization vote without the input of the remaining 1,250 hourly production workers at the plant. The UAW won that election on a 108-44 vote, but the company has declined to enter into contract negotiations.

The union’s filing alleges that “overbroad” rules banning photography inside the plant that led to the firing of an African-American worker who was gathering evidence to support his allegation that black employees were required to wear company-issued caps, while a white employee was allowed to wear a cap of a sports team.

“When this African-American worker showed the picture to management in support of his complaint of such race discrimination, he was fired for violation of VW’s no photograph rule,” according to the filing.

Volkswagen spokesman Scott Wilson said in an email that the company declines to discuss a specific employee’s dismissal but emphasized that the Chattanooga plant is committed to protecting workers from discrimination and has “a strong culture of inclusion.”

Volkswagen makes no exceptions to requirements that workers wear company-issued clothing on the factory floor, Wilson said.

The UAW has been thwarted for decades in its attempts to organize foreign automakers in the South amid heavy opposition from manufacturers and Republican politicians wary of seeing the union gaining a foothold in the region.

Volkswagen has been seen as the union’s best chance for success because of strong labour influence on the company’s supervisory board in Germany. But a 2014 union vote among all blue-collar workers at the plant ended up in a 712-626 defeat amid vocal opposition from anti-labour groups and Republicans like U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.

The union later changed course by seeking recognition as the collective bargaining representative of smaller group of skilled-trades workers.