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AFL-CIO backs UAW in battle to represent VW workers

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

The AFL-CIO Executive Council on Tuesday used Volkswagen’s ongoing diesel emissions scandal as a springboard to voice support for the United Auto Workers’ efforts to force the German automaker to collectively bargain a contract for skilled trades workers at its plant in Tennessee.

“The damage done by the deception perpetrated on its customers will take a long time to heal,” reads a statement from the council. “Volkswagen workers also are feeling deceived, not so much by the emissions cheating, but by the company’s behavior at its Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant.”

The facility’s more than 160 skilled trades workers, who specialize in repairing and maintaining machinery and robots at the Chattanooga plant, voted in favor of having the UAW negotiate collective bargaining deals on their behalf by a margin of 108-44 (71 percent) in December.

But the company has refused to enter into contract negotiations, prompting the union to file charges against Volkswagen Group of America with the National Labor Relations Board in late December. At around the same time, Volkswagen reportedly filed a request for review of the NLRB Regional Director's decision to allow an election.

“Volkswagen Chattanooga has always placed the decision on representation in the hands of its employees and remains neutral on this topic,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday. “In this case, we believe that the maintenance-only bargaining unit may not be appropriate for collective bargaining, as we have consistently held the position that our hourly production and maintenance employees share a common community of interest and should have an equal voice in their workplace.”

The AFL-CIO Executive Council’s backing of the UAW shouldn’t come as a surprise, as UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada and UAW President Dennis Williams are a part of the more than 50-person council.

Williams, when speaking to media in January, said the skilled trades vote showed workers wanted union representation, and the UAW continues to pursue its right to represent the workers.

“(Workers) want collective bargaining,” he said. “We don’t know why Volkswagen, especially with what they proclaim is their culture, has not recognized the majority of workers. We’re pursuing that through a great deal of avenues.”

The skilled trades vote came 20 months after the union was narrowly defeated in an election involving all hourly plant employees.

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