The United Automobile Workers union appealed to the National Labor Relations Board on Friday, contesting the failed unionization vote at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant, saying several conservative politicians mounted a coercive campaign to dissuade workers from approving the union.
In the days leading up to last week's election, several lawmakers from Tennessee suggested that subsidies for Volkswagen might evaporate if the plant was unionized. They also said production of a new vehicle could be pushed to Mexico instead of Tennessee.
"The state officials' threats were a constant presence in the minds of voters in the period immediately before and during the election, and were a blatant attempt to create an atmosphere of fear of harm to employees, their jobs and the viability of their employer ... and cause employees to vote against UAW representation out of fear," UAW said in an appeal filed with the NLRB.
The union called for a new election free from interference by politicians and special interest groups.
The attorney working with an anti-union campaign at the plant told the Los Angeles Times that he expects the appeal to be denied.
"When you look at the law on third-party interference, the law sets a very high bar," Maury Nicely said. "This doesn't meet the standard."
The narrow defeat in Chattanooga was an embarrassing setback for the UAW, which had hoped to establish a union at a Southern foreign-owned factory for the first time and deliver confidence to its Motor City members. It remains the only major Volkswagen factory in the world without a union, and the company's union in Germany has expressed frustration about that.
Nicely noted that the NLRB last month rejected a complaint filed by anti-union forces over what they perceived as pro-union statements made by Volkswagen and its German union, IG Metall.
"That's set a pretty good precedent if you ask me," Nicely said.
Labor law experts said they had little doubt that voters were impacted by the comments.
"Having a works council is in the workers' best interest and voting no for a union was not necessarily a good thing," Art Wheaton, an automotive industry expert at Cornell University's Worker Institute, wrote in an email to The Times. "They were likely influenced by false and misleading statements by people not looking out for the workers' best interest."
On the other end, the Center for Union Facts, a group that has been critical critical of union, called the appeal "whining" that ignored reality.
"Perhaps if the UAW and other national labor unions focused on representing workers versus being a piggy bank for the Democratic Party, they'd have more success in organizing deep red Southern states," the center's executive director, Richard Berman, said in a statement.
Among the decisive comments cited by the UAW were ones by Gov. Bill Haslam, state Sen. Bo Watson, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick.
"The taxpayers of Tennessee reached out to Volkswagen and welcomed them to our state and our community," McCormick, a Republican from Chattanooga, told Automotive News. "We are glad they are here. But that is not a green light to help force a union into the workplace. That was not part of the deal."
Wheaton said a decision from the NLRB might not arrive for months.