The Truth About Cars » Chattanooga The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 11 Apr 2014 14:17:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Chattanooga UAW Subpoenas Haslam, Corker To Appear At VW NLRB Appeal Hearing Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:30:50 +0000 Governor_Bill_Haslam

Tennessee governor Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker are just two of the 20 prominent Tennessee witnesses subpoenaed by the United Auto Workers to appear at the union’s hearing before the National Labor Resource Board later this month, where the UAW will appeal the results of the organizing election held at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga back in February of this year.

The Detroit News reports the 20 witnesses subpoenaed are ordered to bring emails and documents related to a state government incentive made to VW in the aim of bringing production of a planned midsize SUV to Tennessee. Outgoing UAW president Bob King defended his union’s decision:

The purpose of the NLRB’s investigation is to determine the truth concerning the third-party interference in the February election at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant. The NLRB’s rules call for the use of subpoenas as part of this truth-seeking exercise. The UAW hopes that all parties who receive subpoenas will fully comply by providing the NLRB with the requested documents and with their testimony.

The action comes on the heels of an exposé conducted by Nashville CBS affiliate WTVF-TV regarding documents linking the Haslam administration to an incentive proposal made to the German automaker on the alleged condition the plant in Chattanooga remain unorganized; the proposal was withdrawn in January ahead of the election.

Among the others subpoenaed by the UAW include Tennessee house speaker Beth Harwell, economic development commissioner Bill Hagerty, and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

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Leaked Documents Link Anti-Union VW Incentive Offer To TN Governor’s Office Wed, 02 Apr 2014 14:15:09 +0000 092112_WEB_a_VW_Sign_t618

Leaked documents linked to the United Auto Workers battle for the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. point to a connection between Governor Bill Haslam and the German automaker regarding a $300 million incentive in exchange for over 1,300 jobs at a proposed SUV plant within the state.

WTVF-TV reports the incentives were contingent “to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.” By the time Volkswagen entered into election talks with the UAW in January, however, the Haslam administration formally notified the automaker that it was withdrawing the offer, citing that it had kept the offer on the table past the 90-day window normally reserved for incentives when the incentive in question had no such expiration date.

Though Haslam has denied any such connection to the incentive — dubbed “Project Trinity” — U.S. Senator Bob Corker claimed as early as February of this year that the offering would be made should the workers at the Chattanooga plant vote against representation by the union.

As for the UAW, organizer Gary Casteel stated the following in response to whether the now-public documents were a game-changer in the union’s appeal to the National Labor Relations Board over the election results:

To me, it puts pressure on the state to do what they should have done in the first place — and that’s give the incentives with no strings attached, just like they would any other company, union or non-union.

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UAW Will Appeal NLRB Decision Giving Anti-UAW VW Workers Voice Thu, 13 Mar 2014 11:39:46 +0000 092112_WEB_a_VW_Sign_t618

Angered by the decision made by the National Labor Relations Board to allow anti-UAW Volkswagen workers to defend the results of an election held last month at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. on whether or not to be represented by the United Auto Workers, the union has vowed to appeal.

Reuters reports the union believes the NLRB discarded its own precedent by allowing the workers — supported by both the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation and Southern Momentum, two of the outside groups that had campaigned against organization by the UAW — a formal role in the dispute, and expressed their displeasure in a statement:

It is an outrage that their allies, who refused to reveal their funding sources and who openly republished the illicit threats in the media and among the Volkswagen workforce, will now be allowed to participate in the NLRB hearing.

Though it was the regional office in Atlanta who signed-off on the decision to allow the anti-UAW workers a valid voice in the dispute, the UAW plans to appeal directly to the five-member NLRB board in Washington, D.C. The office is overseeing the main dispute over the election results — whose decision could lead to a new election if all is found in favor of the UAW — and is planning an investigation regarding the outside interference alleged by the union to be the main cause of their loss.

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IG Metall Warns Against Yellow Union For Chattanooga VW Plant Thu, 06 Mar 2014 13:12:04 +0000 IG Metall

While Volkswagen works to find a way to establish a works council at their Chattanooga, Tenn. plant in the wake of the failed United Auto Workers election and subsequent appeal to the National Labor Relations Board, German union IG Metall is warning against the establishment of what it calls a “yellow” union at the plant, or one that has been established by Volkswagen.

Just-Auto reports IG Metall international department director Horst Mund, though disappointed with the outcome of the UAW election, believes the only way to a works council is through unionization, while also warning against any diluted form of representation at the plant:

From my talks and contacts with unions in the US, I can tell there is scepticism against house unions. We have seen attempts throughout the world [when] yellow unions are installed. I am not saying Volkswagen is anywhere near contemplating this – on the contrary they are definitely not.

Regarding the UAW appeal, Mund says the fight “was never fair,” citing the outside interference alleged by the union in their appeal as the cause of their defeat, and supports the union’s appeal. He also found the entire controversy around the election absurd, especially with its “life [and] death” tone:

This is not about life and death. It is about simple choice.

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Volkswagen Mum On Alleged Expansion Of U.S. Plant Mon, 03 Mar 2014 15:30:20 +0000 Volkswagen CrossBlue Concept SUV

Though United States Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee claimed Volkswagen would announce an expansion of the plant in his native Chattanooga — slated to build a midsize SUV based on the CrossBlue Concept from this year’s Detroit Auto Show — if the workers rejected the United Auto Workers in last month’s attempt to organise the plant, the German automaker has remained silent as of this weekend.

The Detroit Free Press reports Corker believes the delay is the result of an appeal made by the UAW to the National Labor Relations Board, citing the senator’s comments and those of outside anti-union interests as the chief causes in the election’s failure. He also dismissed the idea VW would decide to build the new SUV in either Tennessee or Mexico no matter the election’s outcome:

There is no way I’d put out a statement like I put out unless I was 1,000% that it was accurate in every way.

Meanwhile, VW is moving forward with a plan to install a works council in the Tennessee plant, though where the automaker may build its next U.S. plant depends on the success of the campaign. VW Global Works Council head Bernd Osterloh warned that the “massive antiunion atmosphere” surrounding Chattanooga could prompt the company to take their ball out of the South should future expansion be considered.

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Corker: Labor Board Should Not Silence Lawmakers Fri, 28 Feb 2014 15:45:17 +0000 Senator Bob Corker

Former Chattanooga, Tenn. mayor and current United States Senator Bob Corker urged the National Labor Relations Board not to silence him or fellow lawmakers opposed to unionization as the NLRB considers an appeal by the United Auto Workers over the results of the three-day election recently held at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga.

Reuters reports Sen. Corker issued a statement during the election, where conversations led him to believe that if the workers rejected UAW representation, then VW would build a new midsize SUV in his state. He adds that when Democrat politicians voiced support for unions in the past, the NLRB ruled they properly expressed their free speech rights, a ruling Corker hopes will run for the opposition, as well:

I hope that the NLRB will understand and realize the magnitude of what they are going to be deciding and in no way will try to muzzle public officials who are community leaders from expressing their point of view.

Corker said he spoke out against the UAW in order to counteract misinformation about the SUV’s arrival being tied to the plant’s unionization, an allegation the union denies making while consistently stating the vote would not affect where the SUV would ultimately be produced.

Though mum on where his information regarding the rejection originated, Corker stood firm on his criticism of the UAW and its main reason for showing up in his state in the first place:

I think it was very apparent the UAW was in Chattanooga for one reason – dollars.

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VW Chattanooga Workers File Against UAW Recount Wed, 26 Feb 2014 21:52:46 +0000 volkswagen-chattanooga-solar-park-08

Five workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn. plant have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board against the United Auto Workers’ challenge to invalidate the outcome from this month’s three-day election, which saw the union fail to win the right to represent the plant’s workers in a close fight.

Automotive News reports the quintet are aided by attorneys for anti-union organization National Right to Work Foundation, who believe if the NRLB doesn’t hear the workers, then no one might be able to resist the UAW, a belief NRWF President Mark Mix further explained in a statement regarding the petition:

Based on Volkswagen management’s actions leading up to this point, these workers are concerned that VW will not actively defend their vote to remain free from union boss control. That’s why these workers have filed a motion to intervene.

Meanwhile, the UAW’s argument for their filing is based upon alleged interference from anti-union forces, such as United States Senator Bob Corker, who said if workers voted against the union, the plant would find new funding to expand around a new midsize SUV set to be built in 2016. If allowed to stand, however, the results would be a major setback for the union in their battle to organize the South’s automotive industry.

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VW Labor Leaders Fight To Establish U.S. Works Council Tue, 25 Feb 2014 15:30:05 +0000 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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Guest Post: Jamie Kitman On The Battle Of Chattanooga Tue, 18 Feb 2014 14:00:42 +0000 VW-Gesetz-IG-Metall

TTAC welcomes Jamie Kitman, of Automobile Magazine, NPR’s CarTalk and other international outlets, as he presents his analysis of what went wrong at Chattanooga, and the next steps for the labor movement’s efforts in the auto industry.

With all the clamorous back patting and joyous trills of laughter attending the defeat of the UAW’s unionization drive at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, one has that nagging sensation, increasingly common these days that the whole 20th century never happened.

I am not here to defend everything that has ever been done in the name of the United Auto Workers or any other union, because their list of wrongdoings is long. There has been corruption, laziness and greed, none of which I, or most union members, for that matter, would endorse. But the list of mean, corrupt and otherwise heinous acts committed by manufacturers through the years in the name of unfettered profit is undoubtedly greater. Profits are swell and all that, but the business of manufacturing is most beneficial to communities and society as a whole when all stakeholders have a seat at the table.

Anyone who can remember or has read of the days when a worker without a college education could support a family, buy a house, go on vacation, put three kids through braces and college, ought to think about the good unions have done. Ironically, many who lament the passing of middle class prosperity oppose one of the main instrument s of its creation.

Now there are those whose official position is to go blindly on the side of organized capital, no matter the cost, including apparently enough Republican politicians in Tennessee to fill a basketball arena, and that is their right. Less certain is whether terrifying workers about the parade of horribles that might ensue from a vote to certify the union – based on conversations they claim to have had with VW management – will withstand legal muster; if VW had told workers they’d close down a line on account of a pro-union vote, they’d be in violation of the law. If local politicians with their television pulpits were knowingly doing the company’s bidding, the law may well have been broken, too.

Then again, these are the same politicians who tell their constituents that climate change is a myth, that President Obama is a communist traitor and demand that their children be taught in public schools that the world was formed over a mere 144 hours, 6000 years ago. The people keep electing them, so maybe the non-union South is simply getting what it’s paid for.

What rankles are those who claim to be looking out for working men and women and oppose unions anyway as bad for labor. Where is their proof? That the American auto industry went wrong after 100 years on top? Er, actually, the years of the industry’s greatest prosperity coincided with the years of the UAW’s greatest prominence.

What rankles still more are the so-called journalists covering this story as if somehow the future of capitalism depended on their penning love letters to management. They seem to have forgotten that there were good and honest reasons for autoworkers to unionize in the 1930s. That there were reasons employees tithed a portion of their weekly wage packets to the union, and reasons that laws were enacted to protect the right of workers to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. And there were reasons that, yes, car companies, like Volkswagen, grew to value their union relationships.

Well, folks, those reasons didn’t all go away. Do you honestly believe that no one at any of the southern car factories wants to be in a union? Would that be because life on the shop floor has gotten so pleasant and they feel like they’re getting paid so much and that their work rules and grievance procedures are now so fair that they have no complaints? If so, ladies and gentlemen of the Fourth Estate, why aren’t you actually reporting that story on the ground, rather than inferring it from the lack of successful union drives in the South? Or perhaps you might have to start reporting the story of how Nissan and other U.S. transplants spy on and thuggishly seek to disrupt the would-be organizers in their midst, as anti-union managements have always done. That is, of course, how unions were kept down in their early days, all across America, all across the world. Other times, when their movements started becoming too successful, workers were killed for their union activity.

But let’s ignore that part of the ugly history and stay in the moment. Assaying the wholesale death of middle-class factory jobs in this increasingly non-union country, the value of union associations to workers seems kind of obvious. And now as union membership dwindles, we see more auto industry jobs that don’t pay enough for people to even approximate what was known for more than half a century as a decent, middle class life. Instead, we increasingly see workers hired in the non-union, transplant carmakers – Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota, BMW and Honda—not only as non-union employees, but as temporary workers, with few if any benefits to go with their new, lower wages. The auto industry is not alone here, but without a viable middle class, one must wonder who exactly is going to be buying all those cars and trucks our factories can make. If people had more money, maybe they wouldn’t need 80-month loans and all that cash back.

Low wages aren’t as bad as no wages because you have no job, it’s true, but they’re not as nice as good wages and that’s not the choice, anyway. Commentators and pundits lashed out at Henry Ford for paying his workers a living $5 a day wage when half that was the national standard but the move, if anything, helped his company. And the unionized American industry proved for much of the 20th century that you could have both jobs and good wages, with the German automobile industry out there still, continuing to prove the same thing. Not too unsuccessful a manufacturing economy last time I looked, Germany pays its autoworkers the world’s highest industrial wages. And indeed Volkswagen’s 61 other factories outside the US are union shops, excluding China.

So what’s that I hear, Sen. Corker? You think the deal the Chinese workers get is good enough for the hardworking people of Tennessee?

Evidently. For those who weren’t paying attention, the senator was so exorcised by the fact that a UAW preliminary card count showing a majority of workers at Chattanooga supporting the union, that he publicly told VW workers that the SUV the company was saying it might build in Tennessee would go elsewhere if the union was certified.

“I’ve had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga,” Corker announced, ominously. Of course, his statement also admits of the possibility that they might have also said they’d build it either way, but clearly that was not the impression he meant to give.

And what Volkswagen was thinking isn’t exactly clear, either. Their union at home in Germany is very powerful, but that doesn’t mean they like it.

Of course, Volkswagen Chattanooga’s chairman and CEO Frank Fischer dismissed any linkage between the vote and the decision to build the new SUV in Chattanooga . But there is good reason to believe Corker’s scare tactic was enough to scuttle the UAW’s drive; just 44 additional people would have had to vote in favor of union affiliation for it to have prevailed.

There’s also ample reason for VW’s Chattanooga work force to question the overall sincerity of its employers, which already reneged on a pledge to build Audis there, so long as the launches of the Jetta and New Beetle (built in Mexico) were successful, which they claimed were. So who knows what the truth of VW’s involvement is?

If they really wanted the UAW in place so as to be able to set up their works council, surely they could have countered Corker’s intemperate remarks. Or perhaps they have another way around U.S. labor laws. Who knows?

What we do know is that the company certainly knows how to sweet talk Tennessee politicians, having received the most generous state grant of any American corporation looking to set up shop anywhere ever – a package that included $577 million in tax breaks, over $40 million in training assistance and over 1,500 acres of land, gratis. All for 1,550 jobs, in a city which can’t afford to update a sewage system that is 100 years out of date, causing the town to reek many days of the year. That’s close to half a million dollars per job.

The really upside down part is that Detroit still pays union wages to some of its employees. So actions like Corker’s are in essence a gift to big conglomerates from Japan, Germany and Korea when they come to America. Until, that is, the moment when the low wages paid in transplant factories fully kill decent wages for the home team. At which point they will have sown the seeds for a union fight as ugly as any ever seen.

Because the harder the workers get stomped on, the sooner and clearer the need for unions will be. Because left to its own devices, big money always races to the bottom. It is the nature of the beast.

So the battle of Chattanooga may be lost. But the larger war is hardly over.

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UAW, VW Works Council Regrouping Under Voting Fallout Mon, 17 Feb 2014 11:00:09 +0000 2012AerialfromWest

Following the 712 – 629 decision against representation by the United Auto Workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., the union may be forced to throw in the towel on foreign-owned auto factories as the automaker’s works council vow to press forward with plans to establish their brand of representation in the plant.

Bloomberg and Reuters report that though the UAW may have been thwarted in their recent organizing efforts at the plant by third-party organizations and local and state politicians opposed to the union, Volkswagen’s works council remains undeterred, according to council secretary general Gunnar Kilian in a statement:

We have always stressed that the decision over union representation lies in the hands of the workers in Chattanooga. The result of the election has not changed our goal of creating a works council in Chattanooga.

Kilian and VW Global Works Council Secretary General Frank Patta are expected to travel to the United States in the next two weeks to meet and consult with labor law experts to determine the next steps needed to bring a works council to the U.S. plant.

Meanwhile, the UAW remains optimistic in the face of the Chattanooga vote for the time being, with support from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

The closeness of the results and the courage and tenacity of union supporters prove that this election is a minor setback, and not a permanent defeat. The ferocity of the anti-union forces only reinforces the fact that there is a powerful new form of organizing emerging.

The union faced opposition by anti-union groups, including one with ties to anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, and Tennessee Republican political leaders such as Governor Bill Haslam and former Chattanooga mayor and current U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

In the long-term, and with membership hovering around 400,000 after falling 75 percent from a peak of 1.5 million in 1979, the UAW may be forced to extend its hand to workers outside of the automotive industry, such as motel maids and university assistants, while walking away from the effort to represent transplant factory workers.

Clark University labor law professor Gary Chaison noted that representation at the VW plant would have bolstered efforts to unionize other Southern plants, such as Daimler AG’s MBUSI plant in Vance, Ala. However, the roadmap may need to be redrawn:

This is a time for soul-searching at the UAW and within the American labor movement. This was the ideal situation and they know that. They might just give up on transplants.

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VW Workers Reject UAW By Narrow Margin Sat, 15 Feb 2014 04:09:18 +0000 2012AerialfromWest

Workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga rejected the UAW in a vote that ended Friday night. 712 workers voted “No” to being represented by the UAW while 626 voted Yes. 89 percent of eligible workers turned out for the vote. The UAW failed to secure representation despite Volkswagen’s neutrality towards the UAW and their support of a German-style Works Council.

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NYT: Chattanooga is a Lobbyist Battleground Thu, 30 Jan 2014 12:30:27 +0000 volkswagen-chattanooga-solar-park-08

On Tuesday, the New York Times published a look at the ongoing feud between pro- and anti-union forces at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It paints a picture of a political battle fought mainly by outside forces, utilizing the deep pockets of some of the nation’s most powerful lobbying groups.

Steven Greenhouse’s story “Outsiders, Not Auto Plant, Battle U.A.W. in Tennessee” is mainly focused on the lobbying efforts of anti-union groups, including the freshly minted Center for Worker Freedom. The CWF is a subsidiary of Americans for Tax Reform, the well-known anti-tax group led by conservative titan Grover Norquist. Conservative commentator Matt Patterson heads the CWF, and has made it clear that he wants the UAW out of Chattanooga, telling the NYT

 “Unions are a big driver of government. Unions are very political, the U.A.W. is one of the most political. If they help elect politicians who pass huge government programs, that requires taxes.”

Mr. Patterson has serious resources to call upon in his crusade. In a piece for conservative blog The Daily Caller, Mr. Patterson lambasted the UAW as a “left-wing ATM machine.” He also criticized the recent rejection by the NLRB of a worker complaint alleging misleading solicitation by the UAW at Chattanooga, labeling it as politically motivated. Mr. Patterson’s CWF is just one of a number of conservative lobbying groups making their presence known in the region. Previous efforts by the UAW to organize the transplant auto factories have widely been dismissed as moribund. However, the level of spending and lobbying action of anti-union groups suggests otherwise, at least in this case.

Greenhouse’s full piece is well worth a read, if only because it shows how high the stakes at Chattanooga have become (or at least are perceived to be). It also demonstrates, perhaps unintentionally, how “pro-union“ and “anti-union“ have been constructed as all-or-nothing categories in post-bailout America. That new politics of exclusion has turned what would originally have been a fairly small-scale regional controversy into a national issue.

The fear of (or hope for) a domino effect of widespread unionization of the Southern auto industry is palpable amongst groups with a national reach.  Even so, the level of concern may be overblown. Every plant is unique, and with manufacturing subdivided between an ever-larger number of OEMs and locations, the chance of unionization automatically spreading is slim. VW’s well-publicized sales difficulties in North America coupled with major layoffs last year have undoubtedly contributed to an exceptional climate at the plant, one unlike the other transplant factories. The future still holds many uncertainties for the friends and foes of organized labor.

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NLRB Rules Against Anti-Union VW Employees Fri, 24 Jan 2014 19:01:44 +0000 2012AerialfromWest

Reuters is reporting that the office of the General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board has recommended that allegations brought by employees at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant be dismissed.

The latest chapter in the ongoing saga involving the UAW’s attempted organization of the plant involves eight VW’s hourly employees alleging that

“…the UAW coerced them and misled them to sign cards approving the union’s representation of them. Also, four workers alleged that VW, through a German union representative who sits on the company’s supervisory board, threatened them by linking approval of the UAW as union representatives to future work at the plant.”

According to Reuters, the recommendation to dismiss the allegations will now go to a regional panel, but the workers are planning on appealing the ruling. The allegations stem from an incident that the workers allege involved duplicitous practicing regarding union cards. Observers say that if the ruling is upheld, it could pave the way for a worker vote on UAW representation.

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UAW Dues Hike Supported By Membership According to Union President Fri, 17 Jan 2014 15:15:23 +0000 Bob King

The United Auto Workers will, for the first time since 1967, ask their membership to pay a 25 percent increase in dues to the union in order to shore up their strike fund and fight for better contracts, a move outgoing UAW president Bob King believes the membership will overwhelmingly support.

The increase will be voted upon during the UAW’s Constitutional Convention this June, which is also when members will vote for a new president to lead the union in their effort to unionize autoworkers at foreign-owned plants throughout the southeastern United States. Currently, union members pay two hours’ worth of their wages every month; the increase would tack on another 30 minutes of earned income to the strike fund, which has $600 million at the ready, down from a peak of $1 billion.

Speaking of unionization of the South, King believes the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. will soon join the UAW rank and file once an election process is agreed upon. Though the union claims to have received signed cards from a clear majority of the plant’s autoworkers, critics dispute the idea that the UAW has such a majority in place, nor would the plant be unionized without an election.

Volkswagen says they will respect whatever decision their Chattanooga plant makes, with Volkswagen Group of America CEO Michael Horn invoking the values of American democracy in a statement made at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show January 13 regarding the eventual vote to either join the UAW or remain non-union.

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Volkswagen USA Doesn’t Want A Union, But Workers Will Get The Final Say Fri, 11 Oct 2013 12:00:47 +0000 Volkswagen SUV-Studie CrossBlue Coup

More drama in the ongoing Volkswagen unionization fight in Chattanooga: Volkswagen USA is not keen on the union, while Volkswagen’s management board is divided on the matter. One thing that seems certain is the prospect of a secret ballot vote on the union, according to Reuters.

TTAC readers are familiar by now with the drama over organization drives, union cards, and the like. But the report by Ben Klayman and Bernie Woodall (to veteran reporters with solid contacts at VW) is the first look at VW’s mindset, and the differing opinions both in the USA and Germany. Per Woodall and Klayman

While VW’s U.S. executives are hostile to the United Auto Workers, the eight-member management board may still ask the union to help set up a German-style employee board at the Chattanooga plant, said the person, who asked not to be identified.

The top executives feel that any final decision must be approved by the workers in a secret ballot to protect VW’s reputation and assuage investors and U.S. politicians, said the source, who did not identify the VW executives.

Beyond the weighty issue of union organization by the UAW at a foreign plant in the south is whether Chattanooga will get additional product. VW dealers are hungry for a crossover to take on vehicles like the Chevrolet Traverse and Honda Pilot, and Chattanooga is a proposed location for the car. But the vehicle (based on the CrossBlue concept, above) has become the center of a game of tug-of-war for both pro and anti union camps, who variously want to see the car built there or in Mexico for a whole host of reasons, including punishing Chattanooga for not recognizing the UAW (or alternately, rewarding it for doing so) or taking advantage of the cost savings and building it in Mexico, while conveniently skirting the UAW issue at the same time.

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Workers At Chattanooga Start Anti-UAW Petition Tue, 01 Oct 2013 13:56:03 +0000 VW-11-1786-450x301 (1)

A group of workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant is circulating a petition aimed at stopping the UAW’s attempt to organize the plant.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, paint shop employee Mike Burton, the man behind the petition, said

“We’ll report the percentage of team members who are with us. I have no doubt it will be over 50%,”

Burton is one of seven Chattanooga employees who launched a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the UAW’s “card check” process, where workers sign cards claiming that they want the UAW to represent them. However, this has been controversial, as some workers, including Burton, allege that the card process was misrepresented to them. They say that the cards were pitched as a way to get more information about the UAW, not a way to approve of the UAW representing them. Workers also reported that those who asked for their cars back were directed to a UAW office to recover them.

Labor representatives in Germany are pushing for Volkswagen to establish a works council at Chattanooga, however US law would require union representation for this to happen. Along with the United States Volkswagen plants in China and Russia do not have works councils at all, or in the case of Russia, they are not integrated with Volkswagen’s global labor organization.


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VW Will Sell Small SUV In U.S. By 2016, May Be Built At Chattanooga Wed, 18 Sep 2013 06:32:03 +0000 VW-Taigun-Concept-7

Volkswagen intends to sell a subcompact SUV in the United States by 2016 and there is a strong possibility that the vehicle will be assembled at VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee facility. Marc Trahan, executive vice president of VW of America, told reporters at an Automotive Press Association event in Detroit.


Alternatively, the SUV could be produced in Mexico. The decision will be made in Wolfsburg. Trahan said that decision would be made by the end of the year. “For me, the answer is obvious, but we have to go through a pretty deliberative decision-making process,” Trahan said. “Additional product will go in [the Chattanooga plant]. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when and what.” VW has shown the Taigun, a small SUV concept that will go on sale in developing markets in 2016, but the automaker has previously indicated that it won’t be sold in North America.

Growth in the U.S. market is critical to VW’s plans to become the largest car company in the world and VW has expanded the Chattanooga facility to meet that growth. Trahan declined to comment on the UAW’s efforts to represent workers at the Tennessee facility.

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You Can Only Have Second Thoughts if You Had a Thought to Begin With: A Chattanooga Story Sun, 04 Aug 2013 12:00:21 +0000 VW-11-1786-450x301

This weekend was the end-of-summer graduation at Auburn, and like all such events, it brought an avalanche of rental cars to our Loveliest Village on the Plains™. Amidst the ubiquitous Chryslerbishis and engineering-excellence-cum-fleet-staple Camrys, I spotted a couple of newish Jettas and Passats wandering about town, crooked rental bar stickers applied with obvious indifference. I saw one particular rental Jetta sitting in the parking lot not far from the bookstore when I went to pick up some cut-price tomes. Coated in dust and wearing those ugly DUI-style New York plates, it was a forlorn sight. I couldn’t help but think of it as a reminder that the road to hell can be paved with tax breaks as often as it’s paved with good intentions; at least that’s the case if you happen to be governor of Tennessee.

TTAC has covered the increasingly murky labor situation at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga facility for some time now, but the extent of the looming political crisis didn’t become clear until rather recently. At the end of May, VW shed 500 jobs at Chattanooga in response to the Passat’s disappointing performance in the marketplace; the ripple effect of such a move on the assembly line undoubtedly cost hundreds more their livelihoods. This comes at a time when the future of worker representation in Chattanooga is very much up in the air, much to the consternation of almost all parties involved.
Despite the best efforts of our own TTAC reporters, nobody seems to know what the hell a “works council” actually is or how it would function in a US environment that may or may not explicitly prohibit such arrangements. The only real point of agreement is that, if such a council were implemented, it might be a gateway to *gasp* UNIONS! The invocation of the dreaded (or lauded) u-word is sending all kinds of political groups into a tizzy, with a resulting wave of cash now blanketing Tennessee with pro- and anti-propaganda. The UAW’s presence in the area is well known, but conservative groups of varying stripes have also set up camp around town. Tennesseans are probably already familiar with the billboards at the top of article, funded by the Competitive Enterprise Institute: one of the moneybags “think tanks” that seems to do all the talking for political interests nowadays. However, I couldn’t help but excerpt a little something from an essay on the CEI website:

One hundred and fifty years ago an invading Union army was halted at Chattanooga by the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg. The Battle of Chickamauga was one of the bloodiest days of the entire Civil War, and a resounding defeat for the Northern forces. Today Southeastern Tennessee faces invasion from another union— an actual labor union, the United Auto Workers (UAW)… One hundred and fifty years ago, the people of Tennessee routed such a force in the Battle of Chickamauga. Let their descendants go now and do likewise.

Umm, yeah. Somehow I doubt that one is going to make its way into the hands of Chattanooga’s black employees, unless it comes to them from a UAW organizer. But let’s not get too hung up on gung-ho neo-Confederate lunatics; let’s talk about money.
In response to layoffs, the Tennessee legislature passed S.B. 0605, the so-called “clawback” bill. At the core of that lengthy document is a new provision designed to allow Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development to withhold state financial incentives for corporations that fail to materialize their promises of jobs. Presumably, that would include VW, although in typical toothless-regulation fashion left the final discretion on whether or not to implement clawbacks to the DECD itself. Now that the legislature has safely washed its hands of responsibility for managing yet another enormous chunk of taxpayer money, DECD bureaucrats can feel free to shower VW with public money in a desperate bid to keep overpriced jobs in the state. Bud Adams is no doubt cackling with approval somewhere.
And let’s not beat around the Jetta here; we’re talking about some serious cash. Five-hundred-and-seventy-seven million dollars in total incentives. As this Tribune reporter pointed out, that makes what Pennsylvania paid for the privilege of getting a dysfunctional VW factory in New Stanton for ten years look like peanuts. Ah yes, New Stanton! In the interest of full disclosure, let me tell you that I’m planning to do a full book-length dissertation on that plant as the culmination of my graduate-school research, so I’ll avoid ruminating on it too much for now. A few basic historical facts will suffice to make my point. New Stanton was the first of all the modern, foreign-owned auto factories. It came with a package of incentives that caused quite a bit of controversy in its day, mostly because of its size. It opened at a time when VW was on a serious downward swing in the American market, and it needed to start building competitive products, fast, to reverse that decline. Instead, it opened to much fanfare, seemed like it might work out for a few years, and then collapsed under an avalanche of quality problems, labor trouble, and good old fashioned competition just 10 years after it opened. It was the only transplant to ever be unionized, and that legacy has led to furious debates about the impact of unionization on competitiveness in the auto industry ever since the last Jetta rolled off the assembly line.
My point isn’t that unions killed New Stanton, or that VW is a terrible company, or that conservatives have no right to make their opposition to unionization known, or some other partisan and easily-countered nonsense. My point is that Tennessee politicians had the entire legacy of VW in the United States staring them in the face, and they chose to roll the dice anyway. They couldn’t have not known about New Stanton. They couldn’t have not known that VW nearly quit the US market in the mid-90’s after getting their lunch eaten by the Japanese just as badly as the Big 3 had. They couldn’t have not known that despite all the hoopla surrounding the New Beetle and the “resurgence” of the early 2000’s, VW was still but a small fish in a very big ocean. They couldn’t have not known that VW has a long history of building products whose quality and reliability left something to be desired (like window regulators that weren’t made out of used bubble gum, or sunroofs that worked, or head bolts that were actually torqued properly.) Now that VW has been consistently underperforming in an up market, fleet sales are high, and quality problems continue to plague Chattanooga’s products, it should be an easy call to see that history might just be repeating itself yet again. Right, Senator Bob Corker?

“Volkswagen is a good company, and it didn’t make those mistakes” such as were carried out by the Detroit Three, he said.

Guess not. So here we have a man who despises the UAW and blames them for the collapse of the domestic automakers, while at the same time cheerleading for a troubled auto company in his home state that made exactly the same “mistakes” and faced the same obstacles that, in his own opinion, killed Detroit. So either he’s totally ignorant of VW’s record in the US (likely), or simply lying through his teeth to cover his own ass about the feasibility of this deal ever paying off (also likely). Truth be told, it doesn’t matter if the UAW comes to represent the workers at Chattanooga or not. Corker’s already lost, as has Governor Bill Haslam and all the other politicos that pushed this particular bit of corporate welfare to their citizens. The VW dream of a happily expanding company that doles out paychecks to grateful, un-unionized citizens while taking subsidies out of their back pockets has already been shattered. If unions arrive in Chattanooga, Tennessee’s political elite will have nobody to blame but themselves. I have a feeling they could have avoided this mess just by doing a little homework.

Correction: This article incorrectly attributed a quote to Senator Bob Corker, which should have been attributed to Professor Lowell Turner of Cornell University. TTAC apologies for this error.

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No New Product For Chattanooga Unless Works Council Implemented Mon, 24 Jun 2013 20:25:52 +0000 DB2013AU00606_medium_1-450x300

As Volkswagen gears up for a decision on expanding their Chattanooga factory, a member of Volkswagen’s supervisory board told the Handlesblatt that any new product would be contingent on VW adopting a works council (explanation by our own veteran of Volkswagen BS here) for the plant.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press quotes board member Stephan Wolf as stating

“We will only agree to an expansion of the site or any other model contract when it is clear how to proceed with the employees’ representatives in the United States,”

At stake is a possible new crossover that could be built there or in a Mexican facility. Wolf, a labor leader, is Deputy Chairman of the General and Group Works Councils of Volkswagen AG, and a member of the all-important Supervisory Board, which is responsible for approving key corporate decisions. The remarks come on the heels of an endorsement of the works council from UAW head Bob King, who told Automotive News

“If I was a worker, if I was a member of the Chattanooga community, and I wanted to have the best chance of getting new investment and new product, I would want a voice on the world employee council,” King said. “I would want somebody there representing the interests of Chattanooga. I wouldn’t want a decision made where every other plant in the world has representation there, and I don’t have somebody speaking up for me.”

Both pro and anti union camps have a lot at stake; for VW’s German labor leaders fear that a non-unionized plant threatens to undermine their powerful organizations in Germany and other locales. The unions enjoy as many as 50 percent of the supervisory board seats according to German law, and can influence who holds top executive posts. That makes Wolf’s remarks all the more credible.

On the other hand, Tennessee politicians fear that a union will hurt their own image of being a “right to work” state where companies can set up shop away from the influence of organized labor. Further complicating matters is a law barring employers from starting their own unions. If a works council were to go through, workers at Chattanooga would have to be represented by the UAW – something that would be mutually beneficial to both the UAW and IG Metall, Germany’s largest labor union.

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Solidarity Forever: IG Metall Paves UAW’s Way To Chattanooga Wed, 20 Mar 2013 22:55:02 +0000

The head of Germany’s metal worker union IG Metall, Berthold Huber, urged workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant to join the UAW. In a letter distributed to Chattanooga workers, obtained by Reuters, Huber says:

“In Chattanooga, you need union representation.”

“We strongly recommend that the eligible employees at Volkswagen, Chattanooga, decide that the UAW should represent them.”

Last week, Volkswagen’s  HR chief Horst Neumann said Volkswagen is in talks with the UAW about setting up a German-style works council in Chattanooga.

Reuters sees Neumann’s comments  as “about-face for an automaker that has resisted opening the U.S. plant to the UAW.”

However, it should be kept in mind that Neumann is a delegate of IG Metall, one of the strange twists of labor relations at large companies in Germany.  Also however, if the IG Metall wants it, Volkswagen management most likely will not say no.

With Europe in trouble, and a free trade agreement with the U.S. and the EU on the horizon, German unions don’t want plants abroad to be too competitive.

In the meantime, IG Metall has come under strong criticism for its role in cutting a deal with GM over Opel. Workers at three Opel sites in Germany approved a plan that will end car production in Bochum after 2016, but will keep 1,200 jobs there.  Who has not voted on the plan are the Bochum workers. They will vote tomorrow, after their works council chief  Rainer Einenkel complained about  “very strange and not really helpful” deals that would split the workers.

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Chattanooga Works Council: UAW Breakthrough Or Defeat? Tue, 19 Mar 2013 14:58:48 +0000

News of Volkswagen being open to establishing a works council at its plant in Chattanooga are widely interpreted as the UAW getting a long-sought nose under the southern tent. It could also be a shrewd move to block the union.

First, the facts: Horst Neumann, VW’s board member in charge of human resources, told reporters on Friday that Volkswagen was “in talks with the UAW about setting up a German-style labor board at the Tennessee plant,” Reuters says.  IAW President Bob King  is all in favor and said that “the UAW is very interested in the specific model that VW wants to present in the months ahead, and we are looking forward to open, fair and respectful dialogue.” Little else is known.

Now, for some background:

  • A works council or labor board is not a union. It is a German construct, and acts as the representation of the employees. Members of the works council are elected by the employees. The works council has rights provided by German law.
  • Horst Neumann is a member of the German Metal Worker Union IG Metall. The HR-Chief or “Arbeitsdirektor” of a large German company represents the workers and usually the unions on the Board of Management.
  • Works councils of large German automakers have spread to Europe, and it is known that they want to spread globally.
  • Workers at Volkswagen Chattanooga usually are opposed  to the UAW. Reuters cites a meeting of March last year, where a worker, addressing the crowd in a meeting, said the plant did not need a union, which was met with loud applause and cheers. However, it is also known that workers in Chattanooga would like to have a works council just like in Germany.

Establishing a German-style works council in the U.S. without the protection of German labor laws would basically turn it into a lobbying group of the workers. It does not necessarily mean that the UAW can run or even co-opt it.  Neumann already said that the UAW is not the only option.

Harley Shaiken, a University of California-Berkeley labor studies professor, said that such an agreement could spread to Japanese and South Korean-owned U.S. plants.

Establishing works councils could also be a blocking move: If workers have their elected representation, they will even less need a union.

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Volkswagen’s America Chief: This Country Needs To Get Its House In Order Thu, 04 Oct 2012 14:33:41 +0000  


According to VW USA’s CEO Jonathan Browning, America is missing out on huge investments and new jobs due to our “rising debt and political discord.” In 1999, the U.S. did attract 41 percent of all global foreign direct investment. Now, the number is less than 20 percent. The money is going to places like China where Volkswagen has 12 plants and three more on the way, while there is only one in the U.S. Browning is talking in code about several facts of post-bailout automotive life.

1) Union Trouble

Volkswagen is the last major automaker to build a new plant in the US. The UAW has been targeting it for organization since it opened for business. Neither VW nor its workers want the UAW around, even its German unions want to keep the UAW away, and yet the UAW pushes on. The result: Audi production that was supposed to be added to Chattanooga is going to Mexico. Still, the UAW has continued to push for unionization at Chattanooga, even into this year.

2.) Protectionism

Largely prodded by labor unions, the Obama administration has embarked on a world trade war. This war is financed out of the pockets of consumers, it has not added a single job, and prevented many from being created. OEMs favor Mexico over the U.S., also because Mexico has trade pacts with major export markets, the U.S. has not. The pandering to union interests costs jobs and kills exports.

3) CAFE/EV Credits

Whereas GM’s DC Rep has cheerfully admitted that, for some strange reason, the latest round of CAFE negotiations were notable for their unprecedented cordiality and pulling-togetherishness, Volkswagen has been openly unhappy with the new rules, accusing them of being unfair, favoring truck makers (read: Detroit) and not technology neutral.

Interestingly, VW’s reasonable quibbles with environmental policy in both the US and Europe have earned it a long campaign of attacks from Greenpeace. Nobody has been able to explain why VW has been targeted by Greenpeace, as there’s no objective environmental reason for doing so. Conspiracy theories, anyone?

Upshot: Not only is VW not going to bring new Audi production to the US, it won’t build its next-generation Golf here either… both are going to Mexico. And this isn’t just a business decision: they say capacity in Chattanooga is “exhausted,” but it absolutely is not. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, they have room to add entire new lines there. No way would they rather use their ancient Puebla plant rather than their shiny-gleaming new Chattanooga plant, all things being equal.

The business climate must be very rotten if a country embroiled in a shooting war with heavily armed gangs and sometimes rogue military elements is favored over a country that used to be proud of its enterprise spirit. The armed gangs seem to scare investors less than union thugs with friends in high places.

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Volkswagen Chattanooga: German Unions Damn UAW Drive With Faint Support Fri, 25 May 2012 12:28:35 +0000

The UAW can write off organizing Volkswagen’s U.S. plant in Chattanooga. The effort has been damned by German unions. Volkswagen’s works council will explain to Chattanooga workers that there is no pressure from German unions for them to join the United Auto Workers union. With Reuters taking notes, Volkswagen works council chief Bernd Osterloh offered the most lukewarm support he can afford to give as a union brother:

“Of course, we will support the UAW; we’ve said that all along. But there’s one thing we cannot do. We can’t take workers at VW Chattanooga by the hand when it comes to voting on UAW representation. One has to be in favor if one wants union representation.”

In March, the UAW had been handing out signature cards in Chattanooga as a first step to gain representation in Chattanooga. Apparently, this did not produce the expected echo. In April, the UAW backpedaled and said they did not mean it.  Yesterday, Osterloh mentioned that “sentiment in the southern U.S. isn’t exactly in favor of unions.”

Without forceful support from Germany, the union drive in Chattanooga is doomed. Said a source in Tennessee:

“The workers in  Chattanooga were angry when the UAW claimed that it had  the support of the works council in Germany and that turned out not to be true. The workers identify with Volkswagen, not with the union.”

The Volkswagen works council has picked up on that detail and might offer Chattanooga workers representation without the UAW. Said Osterloh:

“Should workers determine they don’t want a union, we would make efforts to bring about some sort of interest lobby. It’s important that this site has a voice on the global works council.”

Not gaining a foothold in the south would be a major setback for a union that is losing money and lives off its savings. The UAW had been betting on support from the German metal workers union IG Metall, and that support just isn’t there. German unions would rather gain a power base of their own in the U.S.


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Audi’s North American Factory Could Be Decided On April 18th Fri, 13 Apr 2012 20:04:41 +0000

With a meeting for Volkswagen’s supervisory board looming on Wednesday, a decision regarding Audi’s newest North American factory will likely be made. Two choices are available, but the key word seems to be North America.

As previously reported, Audi is looking to build a plant in Mexico. Reports say that Volkswagen’s Chattanooga factory was being touted by VW as an ideal solution. But resistance from within Audi led to the Mexico proposal, for a distinct factory that would start off with production of the Q5 in 2015.

No choice has been decided upon, but the scuttlebutt seems to be that Mexico will win out. Chattanooga’s factory is well regarding by VW’s top execs, but Audi likes to do things Audi’s way, and it looks like they’ll succeed yet again.


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UAW Backpedals On Chattanooga: “No Official Organizing Campaign” At Volkswagen Mon, 02 Apr 2012 20:11:55 +0000

A while ago, the UAW started passing out signature cards at Volkswagen’s factory in Chattanooga, TN. It looks like most landed in the garbage can.

The UAW needs signatures from at least 30 percent of the workers before a representation election can go ahead. There is no information on how many (or how few) signatures the UAW received. However, Gary Casteel, director of the UAW’s District 8 says now that the UAW wasn’t serious. Casteel told The Tennessean:

“We have not started an official organizing campaign. What got some people up in arms is that we passed out some cards, but they were never about setting up an election. The cards were just gauging the level of support.”

The paper sees older workers at the Volkswagen plant as more supportive of the union than younger employees are. Says the Chattanooga paper:

“Some younger workers fear they could lose some of their current benefits if the union negotiates a contract with Volkswagen.”

Chances are pretty rotten for a union if workers fear that they get less after they sign.  The workforce appeared pretty youthful when we had visited the plant last year.

The comments to the article in the Tennessean reflect the cautious mood in Chattanooga. “The UAW will only protect the drunks, drug addicted, lazy, thieves and those who are chronically absent,” says a Dennis Tucker. “Don’t do it. The UAW is a bunch of self-serving thugs and will be bad for the employees,” a Ron Brown asks.


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