U.S. labor board recommends dismissal of allegations against VW, UAW

DETROIT Thu Jan 23, 2014 8:17pm EST

DETROIT (Reuters) - The general counsel office of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board has recommended that two allegations brought by some workers at the Volkswagen AG plant in Tennessee against VW and the United Auto Workers union be dismissed.

The workers have vowed to appeal the recommendation. If it is upheld on appeal, the way may be clear for a worker vote on whether to allow the UAW to represent blue-collar employees at VW's Chattanooga factory.

A VW union leader mentioned in one of the worker allegations, Bernd Osterloh, said on Wednesday in Germany that any vote of workers at the plant to determine union representation would not be held until the NLRB issue was resolved. Osterloh is also a member of the VW supervisory board.

The UAW is in talks with VW to represent the 1,550 workers at the Chattanooga plant. VW executives have consistently said that any union must be approved by a worker vote at Chattanooga.

Success at organizing VW workers at Chattanooga would allow the UAW, which is struggling to gain members, to establish a toehold in the U.S. South where many foreign-owned auto plants are located.

UAW President Bob King said last week he is confident that the plant, where VW workers make the Passat sedan, will be in the union's fold by the time he leaves office in June.

The recommendation to dismiss the allegations now goes to the NLRB's director of the region that includes Tennessee. That means it is unlikely to rise to the level of a complaint to the five-member board that heads the NLRB.

But the workers at the Chattanooga plant will appeal the recommendation for dismissal of the two allegations, said Anthony Riedel, spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation. The appeal will also be handled by the NLRB's general counsel office.

Workers at the plant, assisted by the National Right to Work Foundation, filed charges last fall on two issues.

Eight workers claimed that the UAW coerced them and misled them to sign cards approving the union's representation of them. Also, four workers alleged that VW, through a German union representative who sits on the company's supervisory board, threatened them by linking approval of the UAW as union representatives to future work at the plant.

Both were recommended for dismissal, according to "advice memorandums" from the NLRB's general counsel's office made public on Thursday.

"This is the outcome we expected," said Gary Casteel, UAW regional director for much of the U.S. Southeast, in a telephone interview on Thursday. "We knew we had not done anything wrong and this validates that," said Casteel.

He said the charges did not affect the UAW's efforts and that talks will continue with VW officials regarding representing Chattanooga workers.

Riedel said the National Right to Work Foundation would continue to assist the workers in trying to keep the UAW out of the Chattanooga plant.

Mark Mix, president of the foundation, said, "We are disappointed, but hardly shocked, with the Obama NLRB's recommendation."

The UAW says it has signed cards from a majority of VW Chattanooga workers supporting the union.

A group of anti-UAW workers at the plant says it has signatures from 611 workers on a petition to keep the union out.

The UAW is working with VW's German union, IG Metall, and VW, to form a German-style works council at Chattanooga which represents both assembly line workers and management. The Tennessee plant is the only wholly owned VW factory that does not have such a group.

In order to do so under U.S. labor law, a U.S.-based union must represent plant workers, and VW has been in talks with the United Auto Workers about filling that role.

Top VW officials have to perform a delicate dance to keep labor peace with IG Metall in Germany by working with the UAW while trying to maintain good relations with influential anti-UAW politicians in Tennessee including Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

The dismissal recommendation made public on Thursday was initially relayed to the NLRB's Region 10 director, Claude T. Harrell Jr., on January 17. That recommendation was made by the general counsel's Division of Advice.

The expected appeal will be handled by the NLRB general counsel's Office of Appeals.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Ken Wills and Eric Walsh)

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