By on March 19, 2013

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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15 Comments on “Chattanooga Works Council: UAW Breakthrough Or Defeat?...”

  • avatar

    VW already has a history of working with the UAW. They closed the plant.

    I take it that VW opened a plant in a right to work state to avoid that happening again. The article referenced above more or less states that German unions forced VW’s hand in PA and the following happened:

    “The plant was organized by the United Auto Workers; a 1992 New York Times article described it as the only “transplant” factory, meaning a factory by a foreign autmotive company in the United States, that the UAW had succeeded in representing, and that the plant “began with a strike and lurched from problem to problem before closing”[28]>>>

    and that this time German unions are not helping the UAW and the workers seem to like that.

    Hey UAW, you took Detroit from being the richest US city to virtual bankruptcy. Stay out of TN – they know you too well.

    • 0 avatar

      I am certain that the “right to work” was only one factor. The other factors would have been qualified workforce, established supplier network, land costs and government incentives, among others. How heavily each of those was weighted is something we’ll likely never know.

    • 0 avatar

      Your opinion… Think Detroit had lots of other problems besides UAW… Management was perfect, correct, as evidenced by GM and Chrysler in 2008.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh, yes. they were also smart enough to invest in R&D, continually improved their products, built quality products that were reliable and fairly priced… yup- thats all the UAWs fault.

  • avatar

    I am reminded of the situation in Hamilton, ON, when I was growing up. 2 steel companies, Stelco and Dofasco. Stelco was unionized (USW), had bad labour relations and perodic strikes.

    Dofasco had no union, workers were treated with respect (which is always vital), and enjoyed a profit-sharing plan which seemed to be very popular. They also knew they would automatically get whatever the USW won at Stelco. Without having to pay union dues, put up with union politics, or lose pay during strikes.

    So, if you’re working in a non-union auto plant, and can let the UAW/CAW make the running for you with the D3, what incentive do you possibly have to sign a union card?

    • 0 avatar

      I’m retired GM/ UAW, but must admit you never need a union until you need a union. Hats off to any company if they provide workers with decent wages, living wages, pensions and benefits. If workers are happy without union, and management is ethical and trustworthy, thats fine. Just have my doubts that without at least threats of unionization these giant corporations, in the long run, will make safety a priority and compensation for work provided fair. Ford, GM and Chrysler sure had to have their feet held to the fire, and without threat of unionization, so would southern transplants.

      • 0 avatar

        It appears you are presuming that workers, or the people performing the actual labor, are owed something more than a fair wage for a fair day’s work. They’re not.

        All workers are entitled to is a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. All else is gravy. Icing on the cake.

        Workers are only the extensions of the owners to get the work accomplished, through management. The owners are those with actual skin in the game, or money tied up in the venture, who stand to lose something. They’re also the ones providing the work and opportunity for income for the workers.

        My dad was an IBEW union man for decades and he didn’t know how bad that was until he was hired by US government civil service later in life to do the very same job.

        If labor wants to share in the profits and losses, they can buy shares, and share equally in all profits and loses.

        So if this comes to pass, I see it as a great victory for the UAW because the UAW will find a way to influence the Work Council from behind the scenes.

        Current labor laws and mandates in the US are far better and more inclusive for ALL employees than any union could ever be. And there’s no 15% dues deduction every pay day either.

        • 0 avatar

          Most of the union stuff ive seen was to deal with personality issues.

          Management bringing in their favorites early, giving them more hours and letting them cherry-pick the easy jobs.

  • avatar

    My only question is why VW would engage the UAW as any part of the process in setting up this works council?

  • avatar

    Keep your friends close.
    Keep your enemies closer…

  • avatar

    This story and most of the comments are so full of holes its ridiculous. I have been at this plant for 3 years and was at the meeting when there was supposedly “loud cheers and applause”. I beg to differ. If you herd 1500 people into a hot stifling building and someone stand up and says “we dont need no union up in here”, and 500 of the sadly misinformed clap and cheer sure its going to be loud. Loud in this situation does not represent the mindset of the majority of workers at this plant. I assure you we need representation and you can bet we are going to get it.

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