Eight workers at a Chattanooga, Tenn., Volkswagen plant have alleged that United Auto Workers officials used "misrepresentations, coercion, threats, and promises" in an attempt to organize the plant.
In charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board Wednesday, the eight allege that union officials lied to them, claiming that signing union cards did not count as a vote to join. In fact, the cards were presented by the union to the company as proof the workers wanted to organize.
The workers further allege that the UAW resisted giving the cards back after they learned of their true purpose. The workers were told they had to appear in-person at the union's office to get the cards back.
"When I was approached to sign a card a year and a half ago, it was, 'Oh, the card just means you want more information,'" plant employee Carol Wilson told local NBC affiliate WSMV on Sept. 17. "Yes I signed a card. But yes, I got it revoked when I found out it was counted as a vote."
Such actions are illegal under federal labor labor law and could impact UAW's efforts to make inroads into Tennessee, which is home to several foreign-owned nonunion auto factories.
Other workers confirmed to WSMV that the UAW sponsored a trip for them and their families to a local amusement park called Lake Winnepesaukah, though they disputed that it amounted to a bribe.
The case illustrates the inherent problem with union "card check"-only organizing, said Mark Mix, president of the pro-business National Right To Work Foundation: It is potentially open to various forms of abuse.
"This case underscores how card check unionization schemes make it 'easy to check in, but impossible to check out,'" Mix said. The foundation is legally representing the eight workers.
UAW has not responded to a request for comment.
Workplace organizing typically involves the unions getting a bare majority of workers to affirm they want representation, usually by signing cards — hence the name "card check." The union then presents those to the employer and demands it agree to a contract.
Management can then either agree to unionization or request the NLRB oversee a secret ballot election involving the workers. The election then clarifies if a majority really wants union representation. In the vast majority of elections, unions win.
Big Labor has pushed hard for federal laws stopping the process at card check, arguing that employers have gotten too good at delaying and undermining the process. Big Business has countered that this would strip workers of the ability to cast a secret ballot on the matter.