So, Volkswagen's Maintenance Workers Voted To Unionize. Now What?

On Friday night, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) counted the ballots of the skilled trades employees at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, TN to determine whether or not they would be represented by the United Auto Workers for the purpose of collective bargaining.
Not surprisingly, the union won the largely symbolic vote 108-44.
Also, not surprisingly, shortly afterward, the UAW urged the company to drop its appeal of the NLRB’s decision to allow a “micro-unit” of maintenance employes (as opposed to production and maintenance being in one bargaining unit).

What happens next?

As Volkswagen stated last week that it would be appealing the NLRB regional director’s opinion to the NLRB in Washington, the election will not be immediately certified.
However, it can be assumed that, in such a high-profile case as this one, the NLRB in Washington was probably already consulted by the regional director who issued the “micro-union” decision.
As a result, it could be a few short weeks before the NLRB merely ‘rubber stamps’ the regional director’s decision and declares the election results certified.
At that point, Volkwagen can do one of two things:

  1. It can refuse to bargain, letting the NLRB go to the federal courts to seek an injunction and, through the process, attempt to get a more fair hearing though the courts than the NLRB, or…
  2. As Volkswagen is uniquely and partially controlled by IG Metall—the German union now co-habitating with the UAW in Chattanooga—it is more likely that, once the NLRB certifies the election, VW will sit down with the UAW and begin bargaining.

Status Quo…

Presuming that, at some point, Volkswagen sits down with the UAW and begins bargaining, nothing will change for the newly-unionized maintenance employees for as long as bargaining takes. They will be in what is referred to as “status quo.”

No right to a better deal, or even have a contract

While negotiations can take a matter of weeks, months or even years, it is possible that the UAW and Volkswagen never agree to a contract, as a contract is not legally required under the National Labor Relations Act.
If the UAW does get a contract at VW, however, the contract could result in better wages and benefits for the maintenance employees, the same things they have today, or it could result in lower wages or benefits.
Contrary to what many assume about collective bargaining, even the NLRB has affirmed that collective bargaining “is potentially hazardous for employees and as a result of such negotiations, employees could wind up with less benefits after unionization than before.” [Coach & Equipment Sales Corp., 228 NLRB NO. 51]

The UAW’s survival is at stake.

The UAW is under extreme pressure to produce something at Volkswagen that it can tout at the other auto plants in the South.
If the UAW cannot unionize more plants in the South, it is possible the union will fall even further.
“If we don’t organize these transnationals,” former-UAW president Bob King stated in 2011, “I don’t think there’s a long-term future for the UAW, I really don’t.”
Volkwagen, however, is also under extreme pressure to cut costs, largely as a result of its emissions scandal.
Only time will tell what happens and whether the UAW’s largely symbolic win on Friday night will help the UAW fulfill its Southern Strategy.
“To the overall grand plan of the UAW it’s probably not monumental, but to those workers, it’s a big deal,” UAW Vice President Gary Casteel said in an interview on Friday.

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