Five employees of a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., will be allowed to participate in a National Labor Relations Board hearing on whether their February vote rejecting unionization should be voided and done over. The United Auto Workers, which lost the election then petitioned the board to have the results thrown out, had sought to bar the workers from participating in the case.

In a decision released Wednesday, the board said that "due to the unique circumstances of the case" the plant workers had a right to participate and offer evidence that they really meant it when they voted against the UAW. The vote was 712-626 with 89 percent of eligible workers participating.

"The NLRB Acting Regional Director ruled that the workers are entitled to defend the election results. The decision over whether or not to unionize is supposed to lie with the workers, which makes the attempt by the UAW to shut them out of this process all the more shameful," said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The foundation is representing the workers.

The hearing is set for April 21. At press time, UAW had not responded to a request for comment.

The union has maintained that the vote was tainted by comments made by state Republican lawmakers that unionizing the plant would jeopardize its eligibility for state incentives. It also cites a public statement by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., that unnamed inside sources told him that VW would expand plant production if the workers rejected collective bargaining. Corker's comment ran contrary to prior indications by VW management.

The union's complaint to the NLRB is highly unusual in that it involves allegations of unfair practices not by management but by third party groups. In fact, VW had not opposed unionization and even tacitly backed UAW's bid. For example, plant workers were required to attend meetings where they could hear from union organizers. Anti-union groups were barred from the plant.

UAW leaders had also signed a pre-election "neutrality agreement" with VW management that any future contract would not damage the plant's "cost advantages and other competitive advantages." Many workers reportedly took this as a sign that the union would not strongly represent them.

The NLRB nevertheless agreed to hear the complaint. The workers then petitioned to join the hearing. As they explained in a March brief to the board: "The UAW’s request (to bar the workers from the hearing) must be denied because, if it were granted, there would be no party left in the case who would cross-examine the UAW’s witnesses, rebut its evidence and arguments, and otherwise defend the election results."

The Chattanooga vote was part of long-running effort by Big Labor to make inroads into the right-to-work South.

Ironically, the UAW had initially opposed allowing the plant's workers to have a secret ballot election on unionizing, insisting instead that VW recognize its claim that it got a majority of workers to back the union through the Card Check process.

Some workers complained to the NLRB that UAW had used fraudulent practices to get workers to sign the pro-union cards. The NLRB dismissed the case -- even though it found some evidence to back up the claims -- stating that because VW rejected card check anyway there was no labor law violation.