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UAW Abandons Maintenance-Only Unit in Move for Factory-Wide Representation

The United Auto Workers (UAW) have disclaimed the bargaining unit of 160 skilled-trades workers at Volkswagen’s (VW) Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant. The union organized the maintenance employees in 2015 but failed to secure a first contract for the group. In the past few years, the UAW has accused VW of multiple unfair labor practices, including that VW violated federal law by refusing to bargain. The UAW’s move may be tied to a recent NLRB decision that restricted a union’s ability to determine which workers to include in the bargaining unit, or it may reflect a gamble by the UAW that it can now win in a more broadly defined unit.

On April 16, 2019, the UAW turned its focus to filing a representation petition seeking an election to represent all 1,709 hourly production and maintenance employees. The union claims that it has signed up 65 percent of hourly workers for union authorization cards, including the maintenance workers previously organized in 2015.

The UAW also appeared at an NLRB hearing on April 16. Although several unfair labor practice charges remain pending against VW, the union is seeking a speedy election (as early as April 29) and does not want the pending charges to block such an election. However, VW has stated that it would “ensure that the prior maintenance-only petition is properly resolved first.” The NLRB extended the deadline to file information until the week of April 22. If the UAW is ultimately successful, Chattanooga autoworkers will vote for the third time in five years.

Volkswagen first opened the 3.4-million-square-foot facility in 2011. Since then, the plant has been the subject of international attention for its union-organizing activity. In Germany, employees and labor representatives hold half of the seats of VW’s supervisory board (required by German law), and the UAW has sought to leverage that support. However, despite a high turnout rate, VW’s publicly neutral position, and two years of organizing efforts, the UAW was narrowly voted down in a 2014 plant-wide election by a vote of 712 to 626.

The plant currently produces the Passat, a midsize sedan, and the Atlas, a midsize SUV. In January, VW announced plans to invest $800 million in the plant, creating an expected 1,000 jobs in the U.S by making the Chattanooga facility VW’s North American hub for manufacturing electric automobiles.

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About this Author


Ethan is an associate in the Greenville office of Ogletree Deakins where he focuses on traditional labor matters.

Ethan received his J.D. from the University of Alabama School of Law, and his B.A. in History from Clemson University. While at Alabama, he was Articles Editor of the Alabama Law Review. Before joining Ogletree Deakins, Ethan was a clerk and staff attorney for the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Roanoke.

*Currently licensed in Alabama only.

Anthony Byergo, Seattle, Ogletree Deakins, Labor and Employment, Collective Bargaining

Mr. Byergo is the managing shareholder of the Seattle office and chair of the firm’s national collective bargaining practice subgroup.  He has more than 25 years of experience representing and advising management in labor and employment matters, and has been honored by publications such as Best Lawyers, Chambers USA, and Super Lawyers

Mr. Byergo handles a full range of traditional labor relations matters, including collective bargaining and strike preparation, representation campaigns, corporate campaigns,  and labor arbitration and unfair labor practice proceedings.  His practice is national in scope and he has handled representation and unfair labor practice matters arising in two-thirds of NLRB’s Regional Offices.  His experience includes representing management in over 200 labor arbitrations, covering issues ranging from strike and bargaining disputes, to subcontracting and mass layoffs, to discipline and discharge cases.  He has served as chief negotiator for management in scores of collective bargaining negotiations, and successfully advised management in union representation campaigns covering as many as 1800 employees in locations from Alaska to the Virgin Islands. 

Mr. Byergo is also a senior trial lawyer and maintains an active employment litigation docket.  Recent successes include obtaining defense verdicts in jury trials alleging sex, race, disability and retaliation claims; appellate decisions affirming summary judgment in sex harassment, disability, ERISA and USERRA claims; and summary judgment in a variety of race, sex, age, and disability discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims under Title VII, the ADA, and the ADEA.  He also has extensive experience successfully representing employers in executive termination, non-compete and unfair competition disputes.

Mr. Byergo began his legal career in Chicago, and then served in lead labor relations and legal roles for a national retailer and a national telecommunications company.  He previously practiced in our firm’s Kansas City office which he helped open in 2005, and continues to be available to serve a select group of clients in the region.