CHATTANOOGA -- The United Auto Workers will "look into other options" to get recognized at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant after dropping its challenge Monday to an election it narrowly lost in February, said Gary Casteel, the UAW's district director.
The union abruptly ended its objection to the vote just before a hearing before a National Labor Relations Board judge was to begin in Chattanooga to consider the challenge.
"There are still options other than elections and card checks, and we can prove we had a majority" of workers favoring UAW representation "prior to the election," Casteel said. "And we came up just 44 votes short of winning."
Hourly workers voted 712-626 against joining the UAW in the Feb. 12-14 election, which the union subsequently challenged claiming unfair outside influence from anti-union groups and Republican politicians, including U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Gov. Bill Haslam.
Although the union has an agreement with Volkswagen that it won't call another election through the NLRB for at least a year, Casteel said Volkswagen could agree to a private election and choose to accept the UAW on its own.
"The board doesn't have to certify anything," he said. "Volkswagen could give us voluntary recognition. There is no adversarial relationship between the UAW and Volkswagen, and we're still having discussions."
But Casteel also said he doesn't believe "it's in anybody's best interest to try another election anytime soon."
The focus now should be on getting the state to approve a tax-incentive plan to allow Volkswagen to put production of a new SUV at the Chattanooga plant, something that had been on hold while the union was trying to get the election voided and a new vote ordered.
"The ball is in the state's court now," Casteel said. "Those employees deserve a new product, and the plant needs it."
Casteel said the union decided to drop its appeal because it felt it was "unfair to keep Volkswagen mired down in the appeals process, which could take years to complete."
He cited a recent NLRB decision in a North Carolina case in which the union had cited unfair activities in an election it lost.
"We won the right to have a new election, but it took six years," he said.
"Our next step is to call on the state to give VW the incentives," Casteel said. "We want to see the new SUV in the Chattanooga plant. This is not a ploy to set up another election."
Opponents to the UAW's Chattanooga organizing drive said they aren't backing off on their efforts to keep the union out.
As for the union dropping the appeal, "This was good news," said Matt Patterson, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Worker Freedom, which had taken a lead role in fighting the UAW's challenge to the election.
"But everyone should recognize that the union is not going to go back to Detroit with its tail tucked between its legs," Patterson said. "Assuming that Volkswagen doesn't find a way to get them in there anyway, the union will try again as soon as it legally and possibly can."
UAW President Bob King has said that organizing at least some of the foreign-transplant auto plants in the South is vital to the survival of the union, and Volkswagen had appeared to be the easiest target because the union had the cooperation of Volkswagen's German management.
The union also is trying to organize at Nissan plants in Tennessee and Mississippi, and a Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama – although both of those automakers have resisted the UAW's attempts, which have so far been unsuccessful.