Legal test central to U.S. union challenge of VW plant vote

Fri Feb 28, 2014 2:39pm EST
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By Amanda Becker

(Reuters) - A bid by the United Auto Workers union to invalidate the results of an election it lost at a Tennessee Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) plant may hinge on the novel application of a legal test used by U.S. labor regulators to assess third-party interference.

The five-factor standard has been used to determine whether some previous union elections were tainted, and the UAW has asked the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, to apply it to the contentious mid-February election in Chattanooga.

Known as the Westwood test, it is commonly used in cases of workers intimidating other workers. So it is unclear if the test is suited to assessing whether anti-union statements made by conservative lawmakers and interest groups compromised the Chattanooga election, as the UAW contends, experts told Reuters.

The NLRB has not yet said whether it will apply the test. If it does, it could boost the UAW's push to force another election. If the NLRB chooses not to apply the Westwood criteria, it was unclear how it might handle the case.

Plant workers were bombarded by anti-UAW messages from privately funded anti-union groups and Republican lawmakers, including Tennessee Senator Bob Corker and Governor Bill Haslam.

Germany's VW stayed neutral in the campaign, even granting the UAW access to employees at the plant. But the union on February 14 lost its bid to organize the plant by a 712-626 vote.

A UAW victory would have resulted in the first foreign-owned auto plant to unionize in the South, a historically anti-labor region where the UAW has been trying hard to gain a toehold.

The UAW is arguing that "interference by politicians and outside special interest groups" created "a general atmosphere of fear of reprisal rendering a free election impossible."   Continued...

A general view of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga,Tennessee February 14, 2014. REUTERS/Christopher Aluka Berry