After several years of failed attempts–including one election loss–the United Auto Workers have convinced the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election early next month for a small segment—the maintenance department—at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, TN.
Whether or not the maintenance department votes to unionize is to also choose whether or not they wish to forego the European-style Works Council concept that has been sold to them for the last several years.
A new analysis by the U.S. Chasmber of Commerce confirms what was written nearly two years ago (here)—that the United Auto Workers’ pitch to VW’s employees that the only way they could have a Works Council was to become unionized through a third-party union was really a Trojan Horse strategy.
Under Section 9[a] of the National Labor Relations Act, once a union is selected or elected by employees, it becomes the “exclusive representative” over all employees. The UAW, by law, cannot delegate its responsibilities to a third party [i.e., a Works Council].
In its analysis, which was released last week, the Chamber provided an in-depth look at the history and rationale behind U.S. labor law (principally, the NLRA), as well as European-style Works Councils and concludes that a European-style Works Council is legally impossible.
“[N]ot only does the structure of a traditional labor union impose extensive legal barriers for the formation of a European-style works council,” the analysis states, “but a works council, whether formed with a union or not, is impossible under U.S. law.”
As importantly, the Chamber’s analysis of the National Labor Relations Act and European-style Works Councils shuts the door on their ability to co-exist completely.
As the exclusive representative, the union maintains the sole power to represent employees’ interests, and the duty of fair representation cannot be delegated to another labor organization. Quite simply, the bargaining representative may not “bow out” of its Section 9(a) responsibilities.
“Therefore,” states the analysis, “any attempt by a traditional labor union to delegate responsibility to a works council to negotiate over any terms and conditions of employment, process grievances, or any other duty of representation, is impermissible under the NLRA.”
In sum, Volkswagen’s employees in Chattanooga have a choice to make: They can either try to have a Works Council, or they can have a union—but they cannot have both.