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Labor Relations News Update April 22, 2014

Today’s Labor Updates:

UAW Withdraws Objections on Volkswagen Vote

Unions slam Obama over Keystone XL delay

Toledo Auto Workers Strike for Union Recognition… And Win!

China Case Report – Court Applies “Common Sense” Principle Over Strict Interpretation of Law


UAW Withdraws Objections on Volkswagen Vote

Union Says It Will Focus on Advocating for New Jobs, Economic Investment in Chattanooga, Tenn.

By  Mike Esterl, Melanie Trottman and Neal E. Boudette

Updated April 21, 2014 12:09 p.m. ET

The United Auto Workers union, in a surprise move, has given up a fight to force a new unionization vote by workers at a  Volkswagen AG plant in Tennessee, a retreat that leaves the organization with an uncertain future.

The UAW was scheduled to appear before the National Labor Relations Board in Chattanooga on Monday to plead for a new election, but shortly before the 9 a.m. start NLRB administrative law judge Melissa Olivero disclosed the UAW had dropped its appeal and the hearing was canceled.

The NLRB will proceed with certifying the results of the February election, in which Volkswagen workers rejected the UAW by a vote of 712-626, she said.

News of the withdrawal brought sighs of relief from workers who campaigned to keep the UAW out of the three-year old plant.

“We can’t say that we won the war today,” said Mike Burton, a paint inspector at the plant who organized a petition drive against the union last fall. “We won it in the vote on Feb. 14.”

The UAW seemed prepared for a long and bitter fight before the NLRB. It had alleged that public comments against the union by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker had improperly influenced the outcome. Earlier this month, it issued subpoenas to the governor, the senator, and 17 other individuals to turn over emails or documents related to the union vote.

In a statement, UAW President Bob King said the union is ready to “put February’s tainted election in the rearview mirror.” He said the UAW now wants to “focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga”—a reference to a likely plan by Volkswagen to expand the plant to make a new sport-utility vehicle.

Gov. Haslam offered Volkswagen $300 million in tax breaks and other economic aid to convince the auto maker to produce its unnamed SUV in Chattanooga. The expansion was expected to add more than 1,000 jobs to the plant, which already employs more than 2,000 people. The offer was suspended in January when Volkswagen and the UAW worked out a joint plan for the union vote in February.

In its statement, the UAW called on Gov. Haslam to reinstate the $300 million offer. A UAW representative declined to comment as he exited the courtroom, referring questions to a union spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.

Dropping the push for a new vote in Chattanooga leaves the UAW with few other bright prospects in its effort to organize foreign-owned auto plants in the South. An organizing drive aimed at a  Nissan Motor Co. plant in Canton, Miss., has made little progress. Last week at the New York International Auto Show, a handful of UAW members handed out leaflets supporting the Nissan campaign and said a march on the plant is planned for this summer. At the same time, Nissan unveiled a new SUV that would be built in Canton.

The UAW also hopes to build support for workers at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala., to vote on union representation. As part of that drive, it went before the NLRB earlier in April to present complaints that Mercedes’ management is disrupting its efforts to rally workers. Mercedes’ owner,  Daimler AG , denies the allegations. The NLRB has yet to rule on the matter.

Under an agreement with Volkswagen, a loss in the Chattanooga vote means the UAW must halt organizing efforts at the plant for one year.

The fact that the union leveled serious allegations at the governor, and many others in Tennessee and then dropped the matter, left some ill will in Tennessee.

The “11th hour” withdrawal by the UAW shows “that their objection was nothing more than a sideshow to draw attention away from their stinging loss in Chattanooga,” Sen. Corker said.

Write to Mike Esterl at, Melanie Trottman at and Neal E. Boudette at


Unions slam Obama over Keystone XL delay

Posted By Michael Bastasch On 3:14 PM 04/21/2014

While environmentalists might be pleased with the Obama administration’s decision to further delay approval of the Keystone XL pipeline until after the elections, unions are not.

“This is once again politics at its worst,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. “In another gutless move, the administration is delaying a finding on whether the pipeline is in the national interest based on months-old litigation in Nebraska regarding a state level challenge to a state process — and which has nothing to with the national interest.”

Labor unions have generally supported building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Supporters argue the project would create thousands of jobs — jobs unions sorely need.

In late February, Obama promised a decision on Keystone “in a couple months” and the State Department’s final review of the project was supposed to end in May. But the Obama administration announced another indefinite delay last week based on a North Dakota court decision slightly altering the pipeline’s route. The announcement angered pipeline supporters.

“It’s not the oil that’s dirty, it’s the politics,” O’Sullivan said. “Once again, the administration is making a political calculation instead of doing what is right for the country. This certainly is no example of profiles in courage. It’s clear the administration needs to grow a set of antlers, or perhaps take a lesson from Popeye and eat some spinach.”

The delay has also been seen as a way to appease billionaire liberal donor Tom Steyer, who has promised to raise $100 million to make global warming a top issue in the 2014 elections. Steyer is a former hedge fund manager and major Obama donor. He has bankrolled much of the Keystone XL opposition and was a major force for campaign cash in the 2013 election season.

“This is rotten eggs for TransCanada and good news on Good Friday for those who oppose Keystone as not being in our nation’s best interest,” Steyer said in a statement on Friday. “The State Department has the opportunity to address the inherent flaws in its past work by boiling this down to the two issues that impact our national interest.”

Energy-state Democrats have been pushing the Obama administration to approve the pipeline, but the administration has done little to fast-track the process. Keystone has been seen as a political tool for the Obama administration — approval would hurt their environmental fundraising base, but help Democrats in oil and gas states.

Indecision on the pipeline will keep energy state Democrats vulnerable to challengers come November. Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Warner of Virginia all face tough re-elections this fall and have pushed the Obama administration to approve Keystone, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Landrieu has been aggressively pushing energy security issues, including Keystone’s approval, in the run-up to the fall elections. She recently came to chair the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where she has continued to push energy issues.

With Keystone’s fate still in limbo, Landrieu could be vulnerable on the issue despite her support for oil and gas. The Washington Free Beacon notes that Republicans are using Keystone’s delay to show that Landrieu has been ineffective in Congress.

“Landrieu has been telling anyone who will listen how influential she is after being named chairman of the energy committee, but it turns out that Landrieu isn’t influential at all,” the National Republican Senatorial Committee said in a statement on Monday.

“This is another low blow to the working men and women of our country for whom the Keystone XL Pipeline is a lifeline to good jobs and energy security,” O’Sullivan said.


Understand that this article was not written from the employer’s perspective but shows another tool in the unions’ arsenal to organize a business….Billy 

Toledo Auto Workers Strike for Union Recognition… And Win!

Published On April 21, 2014 | Labor Movement by Karl Belin in Pittsburgh

Workers at Piston Automotive, a Jeep parts supplier in Toledo, OH, have won a resounding victory that will strike a chord with all workers struggling to organize their workplaces or thinking about doing so. On Thursday, April 17, workers shut down production at their company, effectively halting the production of the new Jeep Cherokee across town at the Chrysler plant. The immense pressure they put on the bosses caused such chaos in the auto industry that the company was forced to recognize the union in a single day. Prompted by the defeat of the organizing efforts of the United Auto Workers (UAW) at Volkswagen earlier this year, the victory in Toledo indicates a return to the militant class struggle approach of the past to win battles now and in the future.

Poor Conditions Lead Majority to Sign Cards

Workers at Piston reported to Labor Notes that 75-80 percent had signed cards to join the union in the organizing campaign. This was the result of the terrible conditions in the plant. Workers were forced to work through meals and breaks, take mandatory overtime, and suffered intimidation from management. Wage theft was rampant in the plant, with those working overtime being released from duty 12 minutes after the hour instead of 15, when they would receive another hour’s overtime pay. Meanwhile, experienced, semi-skilled workers were making only $12.55 per hour or less.

As UAW Region 2B Director Ken Lortz told Toledo News Now, “Over two months ago, the workers at this worksite showed an overwhelming support and interest in joining the UAW. They signed authorization cards; we approached the employer asking for recognition, and they refused to do so.”

Protracted Election or Workers’ Action?

The company’s refusal to recognize the union is familiar and expected to all workers and socialists in the labor movement. The bosses will do everything in their power to disrupt and destroy workers’ organizing efforts. An example of this is the fact that Piston Automotive asked the UAW to throw away the first round of cards signed and get workers to resign, alleging that workers in the plant didn’t know what they were signing the first time. The union refused.

Anti-union campaigns are made easier when the company is given some breathing space. This breathing space is usually found in the time leading up to a National Labor Relations Board election, which is the common “next step” for unions after non-recognition. Workers and organizers took a different approach in Toledo on April 17. Instead of accepting non-recognition of the union and asking for an NLRB election, the brave workers decided to strike.

Because industry in the United States often works on a “just-in-time” basis, where materials and parts filter into factories and plants as needed, the strike was devastating to the Jeep plant across town. Only the overnight shipments were available to the Jeep line, which stuttered and then eventually stopped.

As Jane Slaughter of Labor Notes explains, bringing Jeep to a halt was the keystone to the plan:

“[A striker] said the plant manager gave a speech inside the plant, threatening workers with points on their record or loss of holiday pay, and warning them that a walkout would shut Jeep down—but at 9 a.m. they all walked out anyway.

“Shutting Jeep down was the plan, after all. They had earlier been briefed by UAW reps on the strategy: affect production of the lucrative Jeep so that Jeep will pressure its supplier to recognize the union.”

Toledo and Chattanooga – Worlds Apart

Compared to the blow of losing the union drive at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Toledo victory has the potential to re-inflate the sails of industrial organizing. As we in Socialist Alternative have pointed out before, it was the class collaborationist approach of the UAW leadership in Tennessee and nationally which led VW workers in the state to report that they were distrustful of the union’s leadership. This conciliatory attitude was so overt that the UAW website openly used the slogan “Putting Collaboration First!”

The struggle in Toledo seems to have been of an entirely different character. More details will become available with time, but it seems that there was much more local and regional control over the campaign. This resulted in a majority walkout on Thursday and the solidarity shown by the workers was enough to weld together a strong and cohesive strike.

They key to Toledo was consciousness – the understanding that management was opposed to the union and would do anything necessary to stop it coming into the plant. That clear understanding of the class forces at play in the struggle made it possible for the workers to use the most powerful weapon at their disposal: militant strike action. By seeing the clear dividing line between themselves and the bosses, workers were under no illusion that collaboration would “get the goods.” Exactly the opposite! By striking, workers have drawn the most important lesson of all. That is, the plant (and the industry!) doesn’t run without them and that they can only depend on one another. It was this class clarity and unshakeable unity that won these workers a union in eight short hours.

The Once and Future Labor Movement

Fittingly, the struggle in Toledo takes place during the 80th anniversary or another historic class battle in that city, the Toledo Auto-Lite Strike. This was part of a wave of militant organizing drives and general strikes across the U.S. in 1934, which are rich with lessons for socialists and workers today.

The Auto-Lite strike, like the general strikes in Minneapolis and San Francisco the same year, had an important characteristic which made them different from large class battles before and after. All of these struggles were led by revolutionaries and those who identified themselves as socialists. San Francisco dock workers were led by the Communist Party. In Minneapolis, the fledgling Teamsters local was led by the Communist League of America (later called the Socialist Workers Party), which established the Trotskyist tradition which Socialist Alternative is part of today. The Toledo workers were led by the American Workers’ Party, whose leader was Rev. A.J. Muste.

In all of these struggles, workers boldly went on the offensive to demand union recognition, higher pay, benefits, and dignity at work. Even at the height of the Great Depression, these workers took a bold, class struggle approach to fight for their demands. They were met with the full repression of the bosses and the state, with hired gun thugs and then the National Guard being called out to crush the movement.

The militancy of 1934 is as needed today as it was then. This has been confirmed by the positive example of Piston Automotive, and by the negative example of Volkswagen. Ultimately, the lessons of the past will need to be relearned by large sections of the working class by trial and error. For socialists, we must continue to build our forces and recruit from the ranks of militant workers drawing important conclusions, so that we can again play the role we did in 1934 and beyond


Labor & Employment Practice

China Case Report – Court Applies “Common Sense” Principle Over Strict Interpretation of Law

Chinese labor laws are known for being pro-employee and for providing only specific and limited circumstances in which an employer may unilaterally terminate a contract. However, in a recent reported case, the court took a pragmatic approach to deciding a claim for unlawful termination in favor of an employer, rather than applying the strict letter of the law. For further details and our analysis of the implications of this decision, view the briefing ►


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