NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The United Auto Workers dropped its appeal of a worker vote against unionizing at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, a move that the union said should put pressure on Republican politicians to quickly approve incentives the German automaker is seeking to expand its lone U.S. assembly plant.
The prolonged fight over labor issues at the Chattanooga facility appeared headed for a lengthy National Labor Relations Board appeal until the UAW announced an hour before a scheduled hearing that it was ending its challenge. The February vote went against the union 712-626.
Some GOP lawmakers had blamed the appeal for holding up expansion plans at the plant — and the UAW says that perceived obstacle is now out of the way.
"Now they need to step up and do what's right for VW and those workers over there, get the incentives without any strings attached," UAW Regional Director Gary Casteel said in a phone interview.
The appeal had focused on public statements from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and other GOP officials that the union argued raised fears among workers about the plant's future if they voted to organize.
Union supporters also chafed at revelations that a previous $300 million incentive package from Tennessee had been made contingent on the labor situation there concluding to the satisfaction of the state, where anti-UAW Republicans hold a vast majority.
The UAW says it will now focus on a congressional investigation launched by two House Democrats into the anti-unionization campaign, though it's unclear what that probe will achieve unless it is also taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Volkswagen wants to introduce a German-style works council at the plant to represent both salaried and blue-collar workers, but the company's interpretation of U.S. law has been that it can't do so without the involvement of an independent union.
The company issued a statement welcoming the UAW decision as "an important gesture for a constructive dialogue in Chattanooga." Volkswagen said it will continue to pursue its efforts to establish "a new, innovative form of co-determination in the USA."
Half of Volkswagen's 20-member supervisory board is made up of worker representatives, including the head of the company's Global Group Works Council . The organization that represents works councils at VW plants around the world called on Tennessee officials to "create conditions that provide Volkswagen with the economic basis for safeguarding existing jobs in Chattanooga over the long term and for creating new ones."
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