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Steve Cochran’s Report From Wolfsburg

I was privileged to represent our plant at a recent meeting of the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council held December 5-8 in Wolfsburg, Germany. The Works Council is composed of representatives from plants around the world and I provided them an update on the situation at our plant, and particularly about Volkswagen’s broken promises.

I expressed concern about the effect the diesel scandal has had on U.S. sales and the challenge we face in the launch of the Atlas, since we don’t have true co-determination. Some people wanted to believe that the COE policy is a workable substitute, but I pointed out how limited and unreliable that policy is. And Volkswagen’s failure to recognize Local 42 as our representative – as they promised two years ago – means the COE has no teeth.

Coincidentally, the presentation I made to the Global Works Council came exactly one year after maintenance voted by a big margin for Local 42 and collective bargaining. It’s now been 4 months since the NLRB ruled the company is violating the labor law by their failure to begin collective bargaining. I pointed out that Volkswagen’s treatment of employees in Chattanooga has had consequences. When I told them that we had counted 335 production and maintenance employees who have left the company in the last two years, some people didn’t believe me. But I showed them the list of names that Local 42 was aware of who have left, so maybe someone will check it out.

I told them my biggest concern was for the launch of the Atlas, since it is so important to the future of our plant. I said that our input about job design or suggestions about production processes are not taken seriously. Most importantly, I ended by making an open offer to the company to sit down anytime and anywhere to resolve these problems.

The presentation was very well received and many people came up to me and thanked me for the information. Sometimes in these big formal meetings, people get uncomfortable with bad news. But I know you feel like I do, that you can’t fix a problem unless you’re honest about it. I had conversations and shared meals with Volkswagen workers from England, South Africa, Brazil and Sweden, to name the countries I can remember. All of them wanted me to tell you that they support us getting collective bargaining. They promised to communicate with us and I assured them that we will never stop until we get a contract. See photos from the trip here.

 

Steve Cochran, Acting President, UAW Local 42

Welcome Back James Robinson!

Many of us have observed how differently supposed infractions are dealt with in our plant, depending on the supervisor involved or who it is supposedly committing the infraction. James Robinson, a team member in the Assembly shop, had the courage to stand up for equal treatment when it came to the uniform policy. And as a result of his complaints, James was improperly fired.

James worked with Local 42 to file a charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB agreed with our charge and issued a complaint alleging Volkswagen had violated the National Labor Relations Act by treating Brother Robinson unequally. Before the case went to trial, Volkswagen agreed to reinstate him under a new supervisor. Additionally, Volkswagen made James whole with over $19,000 of back pay.

Brother Robinson sent a letter of thanks to Local 42, saying “if we hadn’t formed Local 42 two years ago, the kind of injustice that was done to me would become the norm.” He went on, “one day when we have a collective bargaining agreement, this kind of behavior will be even harder for the company to get away with. But until then, we in Local 42 have to continue to be a watchdog for fairness.”

Congratulations James and welcome back!

Volkswagen’s ‘Hail Mary Pass

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The dictionary defines a Hail Mary Pass as a long forward pass in football where completion is considered unlikely. Volkswagen’s Hail Mary Pass is appealing maintenance workers’ union representation victory to the federal courts. Volkswagen’s appeal will almost certainly fail since every appeals court that’s considered such a case has rejected Volkswagen’s position.

The news outlet Reuters reported last month that Volkswagen faces a bumpy road in their court challenge. (read the article here) They say that experts predict Volkswagen’s legal strategy will fail, noting “every appeals court to consider a case under a standard backed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has sided with unions, including five this year.”

So why would Volkswagen use this delay tactic, since they are almost certain to lose and have to sit down and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement? Reuters notes that “with court losses piling up, the business lobby is backing a stalled effort by Republicans in Congress to reinstate a previous, more business-friendly standard for scrutinizing proposed units of workers.” However, this would require that Republicans hold onto Congress in the November 8th elections, and that Donald Trump wins so that such legislation isn’t vetoed.

Who would have known that Volkswagen has such high stakes in our national elections?

ACE Out!

When the Jump Start reported on September 22nd that ACE had been disqualified under the

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 COE policy, it did not come as shocking news. The group had clearly been on life support for some time. It was not surprising that an organization funded by outside anti-union business groups with no positive message of growth or change, would not appeal to most people. But where did ACE come from in the first place

ACE grew out of the network of outside political and business groups that oppose union representation. Its registered agent is Maury Nicely who was formerly Volkswagen’s in-house counsel for human resources at our plant. He created the group “Southern Momentum” in January 2014 and coordinated his anti-union activities with Senator Bob Corker’s office, Governor Bill Haslam’s administration, former manager Don Jackson, and anti-union consultants. After the narrow loss in the February 2014 union election, Nicely’s law firm, Evans Harrison & Hackett, registered ACE as a Tennessee corporation with the Secretary of State on October 21, 2014.ACE was never able to get traction in the plant. They would never disclose their sources of funding, which led to speculation that they were colluding with anti-union politicians. After all, Nicely himself once told the Associated Press “this sounds almost silly, but ACE is a nonunion union.”

VOLKSWAGEN RESPONDS TO CONGRESS … SORT OF

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When sixty-one members of Congress wrote to Christian Koch and Sebastian Patta to express their concern about the company’s defiance of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), they asked them to respond and explain their behavior. After nearly two months Congress has finally received a response, not from Koch and Patta, but from the company’s lawyer David Geanacopoulos in Virginia.

The letter doesn’t answer the question that Congress put to them, specifically, why Volkswagen has ignored the democratic vote of its employees and the decisions of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board. Despite Mr. Geanacopoulos’s claim that “Volkswagen respects the right of our employees to decide the question of union representation,” the facts are pretty simple and clear: in December 2015 skilled trades employees decided to choose union representation with Local 42; Volkswagen has not respected that decision.

You can read Volkswagen’s letter > geanacopoulos-reply-to-rep-kildee.

U.S. LABOR SECRETARY CALLS OUT VW

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Criticism continues to mount over Volkswagen’s behavior in refusing to honor the decision of Chattanooga skilled trades employees to choose Local 42 for collective bargaining. This time the criticism came in Volkswagen’s back yard, when the widely-read German newspaper Die Welt published lengthy comments from U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez over the company’s disregard for U.S. laws – both in the emissions cheating scandal and the defiance of NLRB orders regarding Chattanooga.

Perez expressed his strong disapproval of Volkswagen’s behavior, saying “it seems like they make one bad decision after another.” He noted that rather than apply common sense, the company seems to be getting advice from its lawyers to stall and delay. “Their [Volkswagen’s] current strategy might in the short run buy VW time in the courts,” Perez said, “but every day that passes adds another dent on the image of Volkswagen.”

Perez said he is puzzled as to why Volkswagen is prolonging the inevitable, when they must sit down and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. “People will look at Volkswagen and see a company that cheated when it comes to emissions and now refuses to negotiate with its own employees. I do not think it is an image that you want to portray if you aim to increase your market share in America.”

You can view the original story (in German) as it appeared in Die Welt here, and read the English translation here.

Labor Board Again Orders VW To Negotiate

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In a unanimous decision, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ordered Volkswagen to come to the bargaining table and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with Chattanooga skilled trades employees represented by UAW Local 42. For nine months, since December 2015, the company has attempted to ignore its obligation to negotiate. UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said “this unanimous decision makes it clear that the company has been operating in violation of federal law by refusing to come to the bargaining table.”

Skilled trades member Steve Cochran, who is Vice President of Local 42, expressed hope that the company would comply with the new order. “Together, Volkswagen and Local 42 can negotiate an agreement that works for all parties and keeps the plant moving forward,” he said.

Volkswagen appealed the vote to the NLRB last December, after employees voted by more than 70% for Local 42. The NLRB dismissed that appeal in March but VW still refused to negotiate. Local 42 filed charges over the company’s failure to bargain, as required by U.S. labor law. This new decision is in response to those charges, and makes clear that our 2015 election was proper and obligates Volkswagen to negotiate a contract with Local 42.

IG Metall, the union representing all Volkswagen workers at its plants in Germany, called on the company to act. “IG Metall President Joerg Hofmann is calling for VW to no longer act contrary to American labor law, and to seek talks with UAW without delay,” the union said in a statement.

Congress to Volkswagen: Abide by U.S. Law!

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8/12/2016: In a July 9 letter to CEO Christian Koch and HR Director Sebastian Patta, 61 members of Congress voiced their support for all parties in Chattanooga bargaining in good faith, and called on Volkswagen to respect the rights of maintenance employees who elected UAW Local 42. (see the letter here)

The elected representatives voiced their concern that Volkswagen has adopted a tactic of delay to frustrate the vote of the employees, who chose the union by more than 70%. “In our opinion”, they said “we believe that when labor and management bargain in good faith, the best outcomes are realized for all parties.”

The members of Congress noted the serious nature of the issues involved and “the potential impact they could have on relations between Germany and the United States.” They asked Mr. Koch and Mr. Patta to respond to them on each of the concerns they raised. As of August 12, there was no response.