Surprise: UAW folds in VW dispute

Thus marks the end of the United Auto Workers’ foray into unionizing Southern auto manufacturing. Despite cooperative management at Volkswagen, the UAW failed to convince workers in its Chattanooga facility to unionize. The union alleged interference and demanded a hearing at the National Labor Relations Board to force a revote, but unexpectedly withdrew just before the hearing was scheduled to start:

The United Auto Workers Union, in a surprise move, on Monday gave up its fight to force a revote by workers at Volkswagen‘s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., a retreat that leaves the union with an uncertain future.

The withdrawal came an hour before the UAW was to go before the National Labor Relations Board to plead for a new election and comes after it had appeared prepared for a long and bitter fight. Earlier this month, the UAW issued subpoenas to 19 people, including Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker. The union had alleged public comments against the union by Messrs. Haslam and Corker interfered with the February election, which the UAW lost by a vote of 712-626.

“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,” UAW President Bob King said.

The measure of UAW’s desperation came in its efforts to “subpoena” politicians to provide testimony in today’s hearing. Corker and Haslam had already laughed off the attempt:

“Everyone understands that after a clear defeat, the UAW is trying to create a sideshow, so we have filed a motion to revoke these baseless subpoenas,” Todd Womack, Corker’s chief of staff, told the Tennessean. “Neither Sen. Corker nor his staff will attend the hearing on Monday.”

Hagerty and Haslam’s respective staffs said they had not scheduled appearances before the NLRB either but did not explicitly rule it out either.

Haslam rejected the invitation over the weekend:

UAW subpoenaed two dozen officials, alleging that politicians interfered in the election through public statements on behalf of VW. That would have been a novel argument, to say the least, since the NLRB isn’t a political-speech referee. Furthermore, VW had cooperated with UAW on their efforts, while perhaps not being entirely enthusiastic, so UAW couldn’t point to any employer action on which to invalidate the election.

In the end, they didn’t have a leg on which to stand in today’s hearing, and absent any compelled testimony, their case would go nowhere fast. The longer they argued, the worse they would make their position, which turned out to be surprisingly strong in the narrow defeat at VW. The better part of valor in this case is definitely discretion; the only question is whether the UAW learned that lesson in time.

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