Congressional Republicans and anti-union organizations have adopted the term "ambush elections" to describe new NLRB rules on union certification, but the real ambush of recent weeks was the GOP threats and intimidation against Volkswagen workers.
Last week, Republicans on the House Education and Workforce Committee held what is becoming a depressing ritual: another hearing aimed at attacking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), premised on the right-wing fairytale that the union certification process is biased in favor of workers who want a union.
Congressional Republicans and anti-union organizations have adopted the preposterous term "ambush elections" to describe the NLRB's new rules that would eliminate the worst cases of deliberate delay in union recognition elections. Republicans know that employers will still have ample opportunity to force their anti-union message onto employees, and even with the new election rules, the NLRB election process will remain stacked in favor of corporations and their highly paid "union avoidance" consultants.
Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) stated that the new rules would "stifle employers' free speech and cripple workers' free choice." Kline's comments bare no relation to reality. Consider the advice that Jackson Lewis - one of the nation's largest law firms that specializes in defeating organizing campaigns - gives to employers: "Time is on your side" during NLRB elections, and a lengthy pre-election delay can be a "killer" for union organizing campaigns. Deliberate employer delay in the union certification process is a significant problem, as Kline well understands.
Kline wants us to believe that corporations such as Walmart don't have sufficient opportunity to browbeat their employees into opposing unionization. He favors legislation guaranteeing a five-week minimum for employers to mount aggressive anti-union campaigns (the comically mistitled Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act). Even more laughable, an attorney for the anti-union National Right to Work Committee claimed the NLRB's new rules would "impair the ability of employees to educate themselves about the pros and cons of unionization." Corporations like Walmart, Target and McDonald's are highly skilled at "educating" workers about the cons of unionization, often starting on day one of their employment.
As Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) pointed out, however, there are people attempting to ambush union elections, including certain members of Congress. Indeed, last month Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) pulled off one of the greatest ambushes in the history of NLRB elections.
On the first day of a three-day union representation election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Corker - who had previously vowed to stay out of the election - stated that he had been given "assurances" that if workers rejected the United Auto Workers (UAW), the company would locate production of a new vehicle in Chattanooga rather than in Mexico. Remarkably, Corker stood by his brazen attempt to pressure employees even after Volkswagen executives categorically refuted his comments. Several weeks after the election, despite Corker's election assurances, there is still no announcement from Volkswagen executives in Germany on the location of the new product.
In response to widespread outrage over his calculated comments, Corker has explained that his "assurances" were certainly not meant as "guarantees." In any case, he argued, they had minimal impact because some workers had voted by the time he spoke out, and more importantly, the UAW is attempting to use the NLRB to "muzzle" him in what would be an "unprecedented assault on free speech."
Corker's arguments do not stand up to scrutiny. His election-day bombshell most likely affected the outcome, which was decided by 44 votes only, but no one is trying to limit his free speech. He can rant and rave about how much he dislikes unions in general, and the UAW in particular, until his heart is content. However, he cannot make deliberately misleading and coercive statements that pressure workers in a way that undermines a free and fair election.
Corker was not alone in hijacking the election at Volkswagen. Full details of the third-party misconduct are still emerging, but it's already an eye-popping story. Leading Tennessee Republican lawmakers threatened to withhold financial incentives from the company - thereby threatening workers' job security - if workers voted for the union. Volkswagen refused to mount an anti-union campaign, but because it declined to play its allotted role, anti-union carpetbaggers with links to Grover Norquist and other extremists descended on Chattanooga to orchestrate a campaign of intimidation and misinformation.
One local group, Southern Momentum, played a critical role in this frenzy of anti-unionism. Southern Momentum claims to represent ordinary Volkswagen workers, but surprisingly for a grassroots organization, it engaged the services of Projections, Inc., one of the nation's leading union avoidance firms, which specializes in anti-union videos and websites. The group's slick anti-union "no2uaw.com" website - cited by media stories as having influenced workers - claims to be made by "concerned VW team members." But it appears to be a Projections-created website, and the firm is already using the Volkswagen case to promote its "Union Proof" program with other employers.
In Chattanooga, an employer respected workers' right to choose, but the threats and intimidation of anti-union extremists and Republican lawmakers pressured Volkswagen workers into voting against the union. Now, that is a good topic for Chairman Kline's next labor hearing.