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Friday, April 15, 2016

Micro Unit Union Gets NLRB Traction at VW

By: Thomas Eden

Frustrated in its past attempts to organize its first foreign automaker in the South, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union has taken a new approach at Volkswagen's plant in Tennessee and succeeded on Thursday with the NLRB. 

The UAW organized just a 165-member unit of skilled-trades workers at the Chattanooga plant and now has the backing of the NRLB. A two-day vote by that smaller group of workers who repair and maintain machinery at the plant occurred on December 7, 2015 in which the skilled trades workers voted 108-44 to align with the UAW.

The UAW has been thwarted for years in its efforts to represent workers at foreign automakers such as Nissan in Tennessee and Mississippi, Mercedes-Benz in Alabama and BMW in South Carolina. While Volkswagen's international labor-friendly corporate culture has made the German automaker the UAW's top target, the union lost a hotly contested vote at the plant in early 2014 when anti-labor Republicans and outside groups became involved.

The NLRB's Atlanta regional director rejected Volkswagen's arguments that only the entire hourly workforce of 1,400 employees should be allowed to vote on union representation, not just the "micro unit" of skilled-trades workers.

In its Order issued in favor of the UAW on April 13, 2016, the NLRB found that VOLKSWAGEN GROUP OF AMERICA, INC. “failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the additional employees it seeks to include share an overwhelming community of interest with the petitioned-for unit. The employees in the petitioned for-unit are readily identifiable as a group, as it consists of all maintenance employees employed by the Employer at its Chattanooga, Tennessee facility…they also share a community of interest under the traditional criteria—similar job functions, shared skills, qualifications, and training; supervision separate from the production employees; wages different from the production employees; hours and scheduling different from production employees; other unique terms and conditions of employment.”

Common Sense Counsel: This is the Obama Administration continuing payback initiative to Big Labor by pushing through micro unit rules that they could not otherwise have gotten through Congress. Taking the following 7 steps can help your company avoid becoming an easy target for a micro unit union campaign: 1) let your employees know how you feel about a union in your employee handbook; 2) don't be afraid to send a letter home to employees reiterating your position; 3) check your no solicitation, no distribution policies for legal compliance and property signage; 4) train your supervisor on appropriate and legal union avoidance steps (TIPS) within the law; 5) make sure your managers and supervisors are being good coaches by showing appreciation for the hard work of employees, involving them in decisions and helping to promote their career path; 6) ask your employees what you can do better in surveys and small group meetings with regards to safety, working conditions, communication etc – then do it.; and 7) take affirmative steps to reduce the risk of harassment, favoritism, retaliation and anything else that would hinder a respectful working environment.

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at or 334-246-2901. Blog at and follow on twitter tommyeden3