Politics & Policy

How Union Bosses Subpoenaed a D.C. Intern

The UAW reacts with petulance after failing to organize a Volkswagen plant.

I am an intern, and my duties normally include things like blogging, gathering data, website management, and so forth. But recently I was faced with something that was never mentioned in my job description: I was subpoenaed by a labor union.

After graduating from the University of the South, I moved to Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2013 to pursue my political aspirations. I landed an internship at Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), the organization headed by Grover Norquist.

#ad#At ATR I had the opportunity to work on a special project called the Center for Worker Freedom (CWF), whose mission is to educate the public about the consequences and costs of unionization. My knowledge of labor policy was pretty much nonexistent before starting my internship. I knew union bosses had a reputation for intimidation, but I didn’t know why. I sure found out.

Our main focus this spring involved the United Auto Workers (UAW) and its attempt to unionize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. I wrote blogs, conducted research, and managed our social media and our website, workerfreedom.org, all in an effort to educate the Chattanooga community about the politics and history of the UAW.

The hard work of the CWF and our allies paid off in February, when VW workers rejected union representation by a vote of 712 to 626.

Then things got weird. On April 9, while my friends back at college were being served cocktails on spring break, I was being served with a subpoena. One of the biggest and richest unions in the nation, the UAW, the one that helped bankrupt the city of Detroit, was targeting me. When the chief of staff at ATR sat me down to tell me I had been subpoenaed to appear before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) at the instigation of the UAW, I was shocked, to say the least.

The subpoena demanded that I hand over all my work-related documents and communications dating back to January. Communication was defined in the subpoena as follows:

all inquiries, discussions, conferences, conversations, negotiations, agreements, meetings, interviews, telephone conversations, letter correspondence, notes, telegrams, facsimiles, electronic mail (e-mail), text messages, voicemails, memoranda, documents . . .

Telegrams? I have to admit they were thorough. The definition of “documents” even included my diary.

I was ordered to appear in court and hand over everything to the NLRB, a federal-government entity stacked with Obama’s pro-union buddies. Among other individuals receiving subpoenas were my boss, Matt Patterson; ATR president Grover Norquist; Tennessee governor Bill Haslam; and Tennessee senator Bob Corker. All of us were subpoenaed for our alleged “outside influence.”

I may be the only intern in U.S. history to be subject to this sort of legal attack by a union. My family was quite concerned. Grandpa even sent me an e-mail:

Tucker — What kind of cookies should we send you when you are in the slammer? Grandpa.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his e-mail — and my cookie preference — were now subject to the document sweep. Never mind that I had never done anything remotely afoul of the law; not even the UAW was bold enough to allege that. So why was the union doing this to me?

The answer is simple: Union bosses are sore losers. The UAW had lost a very big election, one that outgoing UAW president Bob King had pinned his legacy on, one that could have given the UAW and the labor movement an important beachhead in the South. King spent two years and an estimated $5 million (money plucked out of the pockets of its dues-paying members) on this campaign, and a compliant VW management made no effort to oppose it. Faced with a humiliating loss, the union would not accept the workers’ decision. They couldn’t bear the fact that all of Chattanooga had been so well informed, so their plan was to attempt to squelch the free-speech rights of their critics.

The April 9 subpoena ordered me to appear at an NLRB hearing in Chattanooga on April 21, giving us less than two weeks to prepare. I could not let the union get away with trying to scare me when I didn’t do anything wrong or have anything to hide. My work, like that of most bloggers, is available for all to see.

From my first blog post, I had noticed union operatives snooping around my social-media accounts. Someone at the UAW even found my profile on LinkedIn, which has a picture of me, a woman with long, dark hair in a white dress. Despite all their investigatory work my subpoena was issued to a “Mr. Tucker Nelson.”

I, Tucker Clare Nelson, the intern who was mistakenly identified as a man, apparently posed a threat to one of the biggest and richest unions in the country. The union not only wanted all my documents, they wanted to scare and bully me away from writing about its history and its politics.

The day the hearing was scheduled, I was in Kansas City, having just spent Easter with my family. I was prepared to fight the subpoena, knowing the hearing could take a substantial amount of time. But at around 9:45 a.m., my boss Matt called me, saying it was all over: The union was giving up its challenge. The NLRB certified the election, and the union had accepted the result, at least for now.

It turns out that the union bosses had decided to drop the challenge a week earlier, but they purposely and maliciously failed to notify their opponents, as well as their supporters and even the judge summoned from D.C. to hear the case. As Reuters reported:

VW workers due to testify at the hearing were already at the courthouse in downtown Chattanooga when they heard the news, which left lawyers in the hearing room wondering how to proceed. The union did not explain why it waited until the 11th hour to drop the case, but UAW official Gary Casteel said the decision not to go ahead was made last week.

You read that right: The union knew they were going to drop the case a week before many traveled to Chattanooga on Easter weekend. They chose to tell no one, humiliating their own supporters, including workers from the plant who took the day off to give their backing. It is clear the union doesn’t respect the decision of the workers, the legal system, their supporters, or their families. No wonder VW workers rejected their representation.

I now understand how union bosses have earned their reputation. I just never expected to learn it firsthand.

— Tucker Nelson is an intern at the Center for Worker Freedom, a special project of Americans for Tax Reform.

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