On Friday, the United Auto Workers claimed victory in its long-running efforts to organize the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Reportedly capturing 71 percent of the vote (108 in favor to 44 against), the election victory represents the first successful organizing campaign of this troubled German car manufacturer in the United States. The victory comes less than two years after the UAW lost a close election in a “plant wide” bargaining unit of 1,400 employees.
Of special significance, the voting group consisted of a “micro-unit” of skilled workers – a small subset of the larger workforce which voted against representation in February 2014. The National Labor Relations Board has made this “divide and conquer” strategy infamous in its 2011 Specialty Healthcare Decision and when it adopted a Rule in 1989 permitting up to eight separate bargaining units in acute health care facilities. Simply speaking, many believe that smaller bargaining units can be organized more quickly than larger, plant-wide units.
When coupled with the expedited time-table between the filing of a representation petition and a scheduled election under the Labor Board’s new election rules, manufacturers could see a steady increase in union activity in unrepresented plants and should prepare accordingly.