U.S. Markets closed

VW opposing UAW skilled trades worker vote at Tennessee plant

A general view of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga,Tennessee February 14, 2014. REUTERS/Christopher Aluka Berry

By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) opposes a union representation vote by a small group of workers at the automaker's sole U.S. vehicle assembly plant, according to a letter to Chattanooga, Tennessee, employees issued on Monday night.

Volkswagen has been the most open to the United Auto Workers (UAW) union among foreign manufacturers with assembly plants in the U.S. South. But the company said the timing was bad, a reference to its diesel emissions scandal, and that it does not want the UAW to pare off a portion of the plant's workers for representation.

A hearing officer for the U.S. National Labor Relations Board held a hearing on Tuesday in Chattanooga to gather information, which will be continued on Wednesday. The hearing officer will decide whether to allow the UAW's petition to hold an election for about 165 skilled trades workers. The workers maintain the production machinery for the remainder of the plant's 1,500 workers who make Passat sedans.

"While the company remains neutral in regards to our employees' right to representation and an election, we believe that the maintenance-only unit requested in the petition is not consistent with our One Team approach," according to a letter from the company to plant workers that was obtained by Reuters.

The United Auto Workers filed for an election by the skilled trades workers on Oct. 23.

In February 2014, the union lost an election to represent all hourly production workers at the plant by a vote of 712-to-626.

Federal law allows a portion of a work location to be represented by a union, the UAW said, but VW said the union's petition counters "long-established NLRB law."

The UAW has worked closely with the German union IG Metall and taken advantage of that union's strength within VW to open the door to organize the Chattanooga plant. That would give it a toehold in the U.S. South, where it has faced stiff opposition from other foreign companies and anti-union U.S. politicians and lobbying groups.

In a letter to plant workers on Oct. 23, the head of the Chattanooga plant, Christian Koch, and the head of human resources, Sebastian Patta, said, "The company finds the timing of this development unfortunate, given the challenges we are facing."

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)