By on February 25, 2014

2012-volkswagen-passat-front-three-quarters-chattanooga

While the United Auto Workers take their battle to bring their brand of organization to Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. before the National Labor Relations Board, VW’s labor leaders are regrouping in their fight to establish a works council in the U.S. plant.

Automotive News reports two top officials from VW’s global works council, secretary generals Gunnar Kilian and Frank Patta, are in the United States for the next two weeks consulting with labor law experts as to what steps will need to be taken to establish a works council at the automaker’s Tennessee plant, an idea popular with a number of the plant’s workforce, especially those who voted to keep the UAW out of their floor during the three-day election held two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, UAW supporters believe a U.S. works council would need the legal force of a union contract for a council to work at all. A few options would include talking with a different union, moving forward without a union, or — as both U.S. Senator and former mayor of Chattanooga Bob Corker and American University professor Steve Silvia have suggested — establishing their own union.

Whatever the decision, future expansion into the U.S. market depends on a positive outcome; VW works council chairman Bernd Osterloh told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that labor leadership would “hardly be able to vote in favor” of expansion by VW executives so long as Chattanooga remains unorganized.

Finally, the UAW has also vowed to fight for organization of the plant, filing a 58-page brief with the NLRB last weekend citing outside interference as reasoning for holding a new election. Dennis Williams, possible successor to the presidency of the UAW when outgoing president Bob King steps down in June, may have to wait a year before attempting to organize the plant again, but he doesn’t mind:

We’re not leaving Chattanooga. It took seven years to organize Ford, and I will be around for at least another five.

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45 Comments on “VW Labor Leaders Fight To Establish U.S. Works Council...”


  • avatar
    johnhowington

    meanwhile i am still not buying a Volkswagen in the near, or far future.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    The works council model certainly is promising. Anything that gets away from the “us against them” dynamic and fosters instead the sense that everyone has a stake in the success of the enterprise, all the better. The key, though, is that the stake must not be illusory.

    • 0 avatar
      Chris FOM

      My take as well. There’s nothing inherently wrong with unionization and it frequently can be a good thing. The problem is with the American model of an antagonist, labor vs. management approach. When everyone is on the same side, labor wins when the company wins and management wins when labor is happy, but they also have an equal (or at least near-equal) voice in how things go, that is generally a good thing.

      • 0 avatar

        > The problem is with the American model of an antagonist, labor vs. management approach.

        As matter of first principles, unionization is fundamentally antagonistic as any two negotiating parties are; thus the reason for negotiation in the first place.

        UAW labor relations are esp. bad because it was historically created from the management dumping on labor, which was only reciprocated.

        • 0 avatar
          Chris FOM

          Up to a point. But there’s a difference between “Here’s what we want, here’s what you want, where’s the compromise,” and “We’re going to bleed you for every last nickel, eff you I’ve got mine.” From what I can tell the Works Council, while it does involve negotiations between two parties with their own interests in mind, involves more mutual respect that the overt antagonism that the UAW brings to the table.

          • 0 avatar

            > “We’re going to bleed you for every last nickel, eff you I’ve got mine.”

            It’s the Merican way. Seriously.

            > involves more mutual respect that the overt antagonism that the UAW brings to the table.

            Again, it’s simply a matter of reciprocating. If the party on the other side of the table don’t a damn about you, why should you give a damn about them?

            There’s a sick american ideology that shareholders should themselves first in mind, and that everyone else should put shareholders first in mind. F that.

          • 0 avatar
            Chris FOM

            But that’s exactly the attitude we haven’t seen from the transplants, which is why they haven’t unionized.

          • 0 avatar

            > But that’s exactly the attitude we haven’t seen from the transplants, which is why they haven’t unionized.

            Again, the reason why they haven’t unionized along with most other workplaces is due to mentality.

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/qotd-how-can-the-uaws-damaged-brand-be-fixed/#comment-2847497

            There’s often an assumption of rational self-interest which isn’t there in reality.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      But I find it interesting that Germany’s labor organizations prefer Chattanooga fail than for them to be happy & profitable as-is. That doesn’t seem like the kumbaya partnership they sell it as.

      A works council may be a good thing, I don’t know, but given the internal strife & threats of no new products, it certainly doesn’t seem to be a silver bullet.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        But (and this is purely speculative), what if they are merely using the failure to establish a works council as an excuse to eventually close this plant with a minimum of negative PR buzz?

    • 0 avatar
      OneAlpha

      Funny how the best answer to the union question is a fundamentally well-run company that treats its employees like assets instead of liabilities.

      As long as the company treats its people well, it’ll be the impenetrable castle dumping molten lead on the UAW’s barbarians at the gate.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      Logically, there is no inherent reason why a works council could not exist in a non-union shop, if its purpose is to act as a conduit for workforce input and advise management, but not to negotiate wages and other contract terms.

      Whether it fits within the strictures of US labour law is another question, of course, and one on which I cannot opine.

      The transplant workers (including VW) have a good deal. Their employers – anxious to avoid the UAW – seem to treat them well and give them compensation packages that are very close to UAW-negotiated contracts. So, they get the benefits of what the UAW has achieved without having to pay union dues, deal with the structural rigidities that a union imposes, or face the disruption of strike action. The best of both worlds.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I can’t imagine a greater “tail wagging the dog” scenario than this. VW abandons the North American market because it can’t establish a “works council” in U.S. plants? Seriously?

    Is this “works council” thing responsible for the wonderful quality and reliability of VW products? Or the friendliness of dealers when asked to do warranty service, as they frequently are?

    What about in Mexico? Is there a works council at VW’s plant there?

    <>

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I’m pretty sure the top bananas at VW thought about this before investing billions in Tennessee. They had to play nice with the UAW and let the UAW do their thing and fail. Now that the UAW is out of the way, VW can organize their employees as they see fit for their factory in Tennessee.

    All the NLRB has to do is fly in, talk to some factory workers, get the story, and send the UAW packing.

  • avatar
    walleyeman57

    I want to know what is stopping the employees at VW from creating their own union (or works council)? If they reject the UAW- that should be their choice. Being a fairly new plant with -I assume-a workforce of mostly younger employees they should be able to start their own union and run it as they see fit.

    I think the UAW just sees themselves as the only game in town. They should not be.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Starting a labor union is not like starting a credit union.

      Not only would the UAW fight this because they see it as direct competition but the current NLRB would never sanction or recognize it.

      • 0 avatar
        Yeah_right

        Correct. In fact, under current interpretation of unionization laws, the union would probably be declared a “company union” which is expressly illegal.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        “the current NLRB would never sanction or recognize it.”

        Now that would be interesting. I would love to hear from a practicing attorney in the field to see if that might actually be true. I have no doubt that the UAW would bring suit to stop a competing union, but I’m less sure it would a) win or b) be politically feasible. How many politicians are really going to back them up on a strategy like that?

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          “How many politicians are really going to back them up on a strategy like that?”

          The Democrats are extremely fond of unions and the votes they bring.

          The Republicans seem to seek their backing from business and corporations looking for subsidies, incentives and tax breaks, so no help for unions from them.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      @walleyeman57, highdesertcat, yeahright, tedward, et al – It’s not unheard of in other industries for different unions to represent the same workers, or even workers within a particular company only. For example, ALPA (Airline Pilots Association) is the AFL-CIO airline pilots union, but several airlines’ pilots have their own union just for pilots of that airline that is separate from ALPA. Allied Pilots Assocation, which is the AA pilots union, was actually an ALPA breakaway. US Air pilots also have their own union, the US Airline PIlots Association, and Southwest pilots are represented by SWAPA, the Southwest Airline Pilots Association.

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    “…Sueddeutsche Zeitung that labor leadership would “hardly be able to vote in favor” of expansion by VW executives so long as Chattanooga remains unorganized.”
    Doesn’t make sense because “expansion” isn’t proposed by VW executives.

  • avatar
    Roader

    EU manufacturers face terrible energy and labor cost disadvantages. I can’t help but think that Bernd Osterloh was hoping to reduce the labor cost disadvantage for EU manufacturers by unionizing VW facility, then hoping for a domino effect that would result in the unionization of the other Southern manufacturing facilities.

    An article in the Wall Street Journal last year predicted: “Adjusted for productivity, average labor costs by 2015 will beat Japan by 18%, Germany 34%, and France 35%.”

    One-third. That’s a chunk of change. Take a look at the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs’ Works Constitution Act, the law that specifies Work Council rules & regulations. It’s a statist’s wet dream.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Interesting theory, implies collusion with the other marques though.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, it’s “interesting” in the same way that outlandish conspiracy theories often are. The funny thing is that if the people who generally propagate them only look under their own feet, it wouldn’t be hard to find the forces at play that drive them to their faith.

      • 0 avatar
        Roader

        Perhaps not collusion but complacency, as VW management was complacent about the UAW. Foreign automobile manufacturers would benefit with increased manufacturing costs in the US with the caveat that all plants were unionized. It would relieve pressure on their domestic operations, which no doubt would be politically beneficial in their home countries.

        • 0 avatar

          > Foreign automobile manufacturers would benefit with increased manufacturing costs in the US with the caveat that all plants were unionized.

          How is this supposed to make sense? VW as a company doesn’t benefit from higher costs. Their competitors (all of them) would benefit from higher VW costs. So your “theory” is:

          VW don’t see the light like I do. Dem other fureigners (why not their other competitors will perhaps be soon explained) tricked them into it. Or dem unions tricked them into it. Is that about right?

          • 0 avatar
            Roader

            Germany can no longer export unemployment by devaluing the Deutschmark. The next best alternative is to export union rules/regulations/costs.

            Follow the money: Is Bernd Osterloh threatening a veto of more US VW plants only as a show of solidarity with his US union comrades? Or is there a financial component to his threat? Osterloh pulls down €433,750 a year as Chairman of the Works Council, a bit more than any of his US union counterparts. He needs to protect that hefty annual salary.

          • 0 avatar

            > Germany can no longer export unemployment by devaluing the Deutschmark. The next best alternative is to export union rules/regulations/costs.

            Germany does what every reasonably successful industrialized country does and continues to do: inflate wages by artificially restricting the supply of labor. Just like the US gubmint approx doubles your wages by keeping those dirty fureigner out among other things. Free trade simply chooses to end-run around that restriction/benefit for certain jobs; just not yours.

            > Follow the money: Is Bernd Osterloh threatening a veto of more US VW plants only as a show of solidarity with his US union comrades? Or is there a financial component to his threat? Osterloh pulls down €433,750 a year as Chairman of the Works Council, a bit more than any of his US union counterparts. He needs to protect that hefty annual salary.

            If we’re following the money compare these amounts to the sum of VW exec salaries. Also do the same for their US counterparts. Follow the money, right? Consider reading the last reply to Chris FOM above.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    A splinter group?

  • avatar
    Yeah_right

    Does anyone here think that this has a snowball’s chance of changing the vote? Nothing we southerners like more than having to repeat our selves because the numbnuts wasn’t paying attention the first time. My guess is that many of the people who didn’t vote last time will jack up the “hell no” totals quite a bit.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      VW has stated that they will not build their next plant in Tennessee if there isn’t labor representation.

      I’m not sure who the numbnuts here are: the lying politician,s or the intense desire of the plantation crowd to keep the south in “developing” nation status. Pretty embarrassing.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Interesting comment. Tell us more about the plantation crowd and the south re developing nation status.

        So you’re saying unions advance a society?

        • 0 avatar

          The south’s always been bit of a rural backwater. Ironically just as they’re finally industrializing they vote for free trade and against unions therefore ensuring perpetuation of the same.

          They forestall actual 3rd world living (like most flyovers) by leaching off the bluer coastal areas via the federal tax system, all the while voting to inflict their economic thinking on the rest of the country.

          Very nice people for the most part once you get to know them, but not the brightest bulbs in the pack.

  • avatar
    I_Like_Pie

    I always get a laugh of that stock VW Photo at the top of the post.

    The sign says Chattanooga, but I assure you that those mountains are not of Chattanooga.

    More like southern california.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Here’s a simple idea!

    Why don’t VW if it wants input from the floor hold a monthly or whatever schedule meeting of the workers and management to discuss how to make VW a better place to work.

    This would cover efficiency, work hours, even pay.

    VW can offer incentives for ideas that save the company money as well.

    The workers can do this without paying a red cent to any union.

    Not hard, this surely can’t be illegal in the US, people talking.

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    Unions: bringing the incompetence, lack of accountability, and laziness of government workers into the private sector since the Industrial Revolution!

    VW has bent over for the UAW, they lost the election, now they’re taking a page from the book of Joe Stalin to run crying to Obama’s NLRB to hold another election because they were dissatisfied with the results of the first one.

    It’s really shocking to no one how the UAW has become irrelevant to the point that they can’t unionize any of the Southern car plants they’ve been trying to weasel into.

    BTW, I had an uncle who was a UAW worker. He was a fat, drunken slob who epitomized every union stereotype… and couldn’t be fired. Who wouldn’t want a model employee like that?

    • 0 avatar

      > BTW, I had an uncle who was a UAW worker. He was a fat, drunken slob who epitomized every union stereotype… and couldn’t be fired. Who wouldn’t want a model employee like that?

      Hot damn that job sounds hella more awesome than that temp 10/hr one honda’s been filling with liberal-arts grads. Who wouldn’t want to be employed like that?


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