NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The United Auto Workers has dropped its appeal of the February vote that it lost to unionize workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, the UAW announced Monday morning.
At the same time, the union called on Congress to specifically investigate Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s use of federal funds as a part of a $300 million incentive package that his administration appeared to have used as leverage against the UAW.
“Frankly, Congress is a more effective venue for publicly examining the now well-documented threat," UAW President Bob King said in a statement.
This major development comes as the National Labor Relations Board was set to begin hearings Monday on the UAW appeal. The union had wanted the NLRB to order new elections, claiming third-party interference tainted the vote.
In the announcement, King noted that the NLRB process could take months or years. The union also cited efforts by Haslam and U.S. Senator Bob Corker to fight UAW subpoenas requiring them to testify about their involvement in the anti-union effort.
“The unprecedented political interference by Gov. Haslam, Sen. Corker and others was a distraction for Volkswagen employees and a detour from achieving Tennessee’s economic priorities,” King said.
“The UAW is ready to put February’s tainted election in the rearview mirror and instead focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga.”
That announcement appeared to be an effort to remove a potential obstacle to Volkswagen's much-delayed announcement that it will add an SUV line -- and more than a thousand new jobs -- at the facility. UAW said the decision was made "in the best interests of Volkswagen employees, the automaker and economic development in Chattanooga."
It also follows a recent claim by the anti-union Americans for Tax Reform that the German automaker, which operates a business model based on close cooperation with labor, was considering the possibility of recognizing the UAW without the need for a new vote.
The announcement did not elaborate on what the UAW thinks may be the next step in its efforts to unionize the VW plant.
UAW lawyers had subpoenaed the Tennessee governor after NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained confidential documents showing that the Haslam administration had offered $300 million in incentives last fall to help Volkswagen expand its operations in Chattanooga.
But, in return, Haslam wanted a say in the automaker’s discussions with the UAW about forming a workers’ council there.
"The incentives … are subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee," the secret offer said.
Democrats in the U.S. House recently announced that they had opened an inquiry into that incentive offer.
UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who directs the union’s Southern region, said in the statement that his focus now is to push for the new SUV line at the Volkswagen plant.
“The UAW wants to help create quality jobs and build world-class products for American consumers,” Casteel said.
“With this in mind, we urge Gov. Haslam to immediately extend the incentives that previously were offered to Volkswagen for this new SUV line, and do so unconditionally.”
The Haslam administration had withdrawn the incentive offer in the days leading up to the February vote.
Recently, the governor said the state was now waiting for VW to re-open talks about the expansion, suggesting the automaker’s decisions hinged on the NLRB process.
At the same time, the UAW announcement seemed to acknowledge the difficult challenge that the union faced.
Even if the NLRB ordered a new election — the board's only available remedy under current law — nothing would stop politicians and anti-union organizations from again mounting a vigorous anti-union campaign, the news release noted.
In announcing that they would fight the UAW subpoenas to testify at the NLRB hearing, both Haslam and Corker had urged the union to accept the 712-626 vote.
Corker, in a statement released after the announcement, said that the "11th hour reversal by the UAW affirms what we have said all along -- that their objection was nothing more than a sideshow to draw attention away from their stinging loss in Chattanooga."
He added, "It's a shame that UAW slowed the momentum on our expansion conversations with Volkswagen, but now it's time for VW, our state and our community to re-engage and move forward with bringing additional jobs to Chattanooga."
Volkswagen issued a statement, calling the UAW decision "an important gesture for a constructive dialogue."
The company added, "Important tasks lie ahead of us: To build excellent cars for the American market in Chattanooga, to create good, secure jobs in Tennessee, and to set up a new, innovative form of co-determination in the USA."
Volkswagen's Global Works Council said that "Tennessee politicians are now called on 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. The UAW has taken the first step and all those responsible in the USA must now look to the future and pull in the same direction."