Volkswagen faces bumpy road in challenge to 'micro-union'

Mon Sep 26, 2016 11:55am EDT
 
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By Daniel Wiessner and Bernie Woodall

(Reuters) - Volkswagen has joined other large companies and a chorus of business groups and Republican lawmakers in challenging a union strategy of organizing splinter groups of workers, but experts say recent court decisions approving the tactic suggest it is here to stay.

The German automaker's U.S. subsidiary earlier this month brought a case in a Washington, D.C.-based federal appeals court seeking to overturn a vote by a group of skilled trade workers at its Chattanooga, Tennessee, assembly plant to join the United Auto Workers (UAW).

The dispute is a high-profile test of whether unions, which have struggled to reverse a long slide in private sector membership, can seek new members by targeting smaller groups, rather than organizing whole plants or companies as in the past.

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. Those cases have involved fragrance and cosmetic department workers at a Macy's store and FedEx drivers whose unions exclude the people who load their trucks, among others.

Companies and business groups say that what they derisively call "micro-unions" threaten to balkanize workplaces and pit groups of workers against each other. They say the standard used to approve the units tilts too far in favor of unions.

“This makes it almost inevitable that any union target will eventually be organized,” said David French, the vice president of the National Retail Federation, which has warned that smaller bargaining units could be particularly harmful to retailers.

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.

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Flags of German car maker Volkswagen are seen at the IAA truck show in Hanover, September 22,  2016.  REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer