November 16, 2013

Carmaker, Tennessee leaders at odds over union

Volkswagen says its Chattanoooga plant lacks representation, but Republican officials decry the spread of organized labor.

By Erik Schelzig
The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Top Volkswagen officials are trying to quell fears among Tennessee politicians about efforts to work with a union to create a German-style works council at the automaker’s lone U.S. plant in Chattanooga.

AT A GLANCE

In Germany, wages are bargained through the union, while works councils negotiate plant-specific matters such as job security and working conditions for both blue- and white-collar employees.

A Volkswagen official said U.S. law requires the company to work with a union if it wishes to transfer authority to a works council.

So far the Republican leaders remain unconvinced.

Labor representatives, who make up half of the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker’s supervisory board, have pressured VW management to enter discussions with the United Auto Workers about representing workers at the plant because U.S. law would require a works council to be created through an established union.

Bernd Osterloh, the head of the Volkswagen’s global works council and a member of the company’s supervisory board, was among a delegation of company leaders who visited the plant Thursday and later met with Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in Nashville.

Southern politicians say they fear a successful UAW organization of the Volkswagen plant would hurt the region’s ability to attract future investment, and that it could lead to the spread of organized labor to other foreign car makers.

Haslam told reporters Friday that while his discussion with the Volkswagen executives was informative, his position opposing the UAW remains unchanged because he fears the union would contribute to making the plant less likely to be chosen for expansion.

But labor leaders like Osterloh stress that the Chattanooga plant is alone among major Volkswagen facilities around the world in that it does not have formal worker representation.

The governor said Volkswagen has stressed labor costs and the need for a greater number of nearby suppliers in deciding between Chattanooga and Mexico, he said.

“Well, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which labor costs are helped by the UAW coming in, and I know that bringing suppliers close would be more difficult,” Haslam said.

 

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