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Scandal-plagued VW challenges US plant's union push

Volkswagen of America has said it will appeal a US Labor Department ruling allowing maintenance workers at a Tennessee plant to unionize. The United Auto Workers (UAW) union has criticized the move as a "stall tactic."

Volkswagen said Monday it plans to appeal a National Labor Relations Board ruling that upheld a unionization vote among 160 employees at the automaker's lone US assembly plant in the southern state of Tennessee.

US workers specializing in the maintenance of machinery and robots at the Chattanooga factory in December voted 108-44 in favor of UAW representation.

But the German auto giant - which unsuccessfully appealed the unionization vote - now says it takes issue that the union drive only covers a portion of the plant's 1,400-strong workforce.

"Volkswagen respects the right of all of our employees to decide the question of union representation," VW's factory spokesman Scott Wilson said in an email. "This is why we disagree with the decision to separate Volkswagen maintenance and production workers and will continue our effort to allow everyone to vote as one group on the matter of union representation."

The United Auto Workers union rejected that reasoning and accused the company of employing "stall tactic that won't work." The autoworkers union says it's now appealing to the federal labor board to issue an unfair labor practice complaint against Volkswagen.

"At a time when Volkswagen already has

run afoul of the federal and state governments in the emissions-cheating scandal

, we're disappointed that the company now is choosing to thumb its nose at the federal government over US labor law," said Gary Casteel, the UAW's secretary-treasurer.

VW's public image already suffering

VW Skandal USA

VW was plunged into its deepest-ever crisis last September, when it came to light the carmaker had installed emissions-cheating software in 11 million diesel engines worldwide

Industrial relations experts say VW's hardball tactics on the UAW vote come as a surprise because of the strong union role in German companies, where

worker representatives have a robust role on the company board

.

"The union in Germany does not want the company in the United States to take a hostile position toward the UAW," Richard Hurd, a labor relations professor at Cornell University told the AFP news agency. "Maybe this is just Volkswagen trying to keep conservative politicians in the south happy."

State politicians in Tennessee from the right-leaning Republican Party are historically hostile to labor unions and have long spoken out against

the United Auto Workers gaining a foothold among regional plants

.

The scrap over unionization comes amid Volkswagen's ongoing efforts to cope with the fallout from its diesel emissions cheating scandal that the company said would cost it $18 billion (15.9 billion euros) for 2015 alone. A federal judge last week said VW had agreed with the government to buy back as many as 482,000 diesel cars, as well as pay to make up for the cars' pollution.

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