Politics & Policy

Wheels Come Off UAW’s Chattanooga Challenge

NLRB history is against union's attempt to appeal voting results

After the United Auto Workers (UAW) union was spurned by Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga, Tenn., who decided on Friday to reject unionization, UAW president Bob King said that he was not ruling out challenging the outcome of the vote. If the challenge is accepted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the results of the election would be voided.

Citing “politicians and outside interests groups” interfering with the election, King said he was outraged at the “outside interference” in the election.

What King alleges influenced the election were several statements made by various Republican politicians preceding the vote. Most notably, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said on the first day of the election, “I’ve had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga.”

Similarly, State Senator Bo Watson said two days before the vote, “Should the workers at Volkswagen choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers, then I believe any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate.”

If the UAW challenges the vote, it will most likely argue that such statements from outside groups “upset laboratory conditions” in the election, which are grounds for the NLRB to nullify the results.

However, previous decisions by the NLRB suggest that statements by politicians are not sufficient enough to “upset laboratory conditions.”

In 2001, Saint-Gobain Abrasives, Inc. in Massachusetts argued that pro-union statements made by Congressman Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) impeded a fair election that resulted in the unionization of workers under the UAW. The NLRB issued a decision in December of that year determining that “Congressman McGovern’s statements to employees in support of the Petitioner [UAW] did not upset the laboratory conditions for a fair election and do not warrant setting aside the election.” (The UAW victory was only temporary. In 2005, employees voted to decertify their union representation.)

Similarly, in 2008, Congressman Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) and several other elected officials conducted a mock card-check rally to aid the UAW in their successful unionization of workers at the Trump Casino in Atlantic City. The officials said they had seen signed cards and knew that a majority of employees at the casino wanted to be unionized. The NLRB later ruled that both because the workers voted to unionize by a margin of 324 to 149 and because reasonable employees would be able to recognize that pronouncement was an opinion, the Andrews campaign did not impede a proper election.

Elected officials have as much a right to hold opinions as the citizens they represent, and if the NLRB adheres to precedent, the potential UAW challenge will be rejected just as previous challenges against the UAW were rejected on similar grounds.

— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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