UAW unveils works council proposal for Volkswagen plant

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The United Auto Workers on Thursday unveiled a proposal for creating a German-style works council at Volkswagen plant in Tennessee that is predicated on the automaker recognizing the union as its exclusive bargaining partner.

The UAW's "Vision Statement for a Collectively Bargained Works Council at Volkswagen Chattanooga" is based on an agreement struck with the German automaker before workers narrowly defeated a union vote at the plant last year.

Following that loss, the UAW's Local 42 has plowed away at signing up workers in its ongoing effort to make the plant the first owned by a foreign automaker to be represented by the union in the South — despite vocal opposition from anti-union Republicans in the state and region.

The union disclosed in a filing with the U.S. Department of Labor last week that it has 816 members, or about 55 percent of the total blue collar work force.

"The UAW represent a majority of the Hourly Unit, and are thus fully entitled to act as exclusive representatives of that unit at VW Chattanooga," according to the statement.

A Volkswagen plant spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

VW management has been under heavy pressure from worker representatives who make up half of the company's supervisory board because the U.S. plant is alone among the company's worldwide plants without labor representation.

Under the "dual model," wages are bargained through the union, while the works council handles plant-specific matters like working conditions for both hourly and salaried employees.

The union hopes its case for recognition without another contentious vote will be bolstered by a leadership shake-up at Volkswagen that has left Berthold Huber, a former president of the UAW's German counterpart IG Metall, as the interim chairman of the world's No. 2 automaker. Huber in his earlier roles had publicly supported the UAW's efforts to gain recognition at the plant.

Volkswagen last year announced plans to expand the Chattanooga plant to build a new SUV aimed at reviving flagging sales in the U.S., but the new model isn't expected to hit dealerships until next year.

The decision to build the new SUV followed months of political tension, with Volkswagen's labor-friendly corporate culture in the political crosshairs of Republicans who fear a UAW foothold among foreign automakers would make the region less competitive for future investment.

A rival workers group called the American Council of Employees, ACE, has formed at the plant to oppose the recognition of the UAW as the company's exclusive bargaining partner.