Negotiations between Volkswagen and the United Auto Workers over the UAW’s possible representation of workers at VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee assembly plant began last Friday, according to the German newspaper, the Handelsblatt and Automotive News. The newspaper also reported that UAW president Bob King and VW board member for human resources, Horst Neumann discussed the establishment of a German style “works council” to represent factory workers at the plant. VW and the UAW both declined comment.
VW likes the works council scheme, wherein both blue and white collar employees vote for representatives who work out labor conditions with company executives. The local works councils also elect representatives to a global council that has input into VW’s major business decisions, including product and production planning.
To satisfy U.S. labor law, which disfavors labor unions started by a company, if VW will have to negotiate with an outside labor organization if it wants to start a works council. Back in March, Neumann said that “the UAW would be the natural partner” for a works council at the Tennessee facility, acknowledging the UAW’s ties to IG Metall, the German labor union that represents most of VW’s workers in Germany.
Bernd Osterloh, the head of VW’s global works council was present for the UAW/VW talks, according to Handelsblatt. The talks come as VW evaluates the possible expansion of the plant’s capacity from 150,000 units to a half million. VW will likely build a new mid-sized 7 passenger SUV previewed in the CrossBlue concept, either assembled in Mexico or Tennessee.
If the UAW is certified to represent VW workers, it will likely not reverse the fortunes for the union, which has had difficulty organizing foreign-owned automotive assembly plants. Efforts to organize Mercedes-Benz and Nissan transplant operations have not been successful, but some progress with VW is possible.
“I don’t see it as a renaissance that will bring the U.S. labor movement back,” Steve Silvia, an American University professor and labor expert, said. “But seeing whether they can get their foot in the door — that might work. And given the plight of the U.S. labor movement, they don’t have too many other cards to play. So they might as well play this one.”
Only a single foreign owned car or light truck assembly operation in the U.S. is organized by the UAW, a Mitsubishi factory in Normal, Ill. that inherited UAW representation when the facility began as a joint venture with Chrysler.