Chattanooga’s Volkswagen workers are making an effort to form a local union so they can develop an inclusive, German-style works council system consistent with the VW culture and philosophy.
Meanwhile, it has become increasingly obvious there are some who have not taken the time to learn the facts relating to the VW system, culture and philosophy and who want to make this an ideological confrontation.
VW workers in Chattanooga are simply exercising their legal right to form a union and should not be subject to threats and innuendo from politicians nor misrepresentation of the facts by anti-union attack groups. The fact is that VW believes in employee representation. Their philosophy is based on “co-determination,” a system I have seen up close during several trips to Germany.
Co-determination encourages open communication and involves all parties in joint decision-making through an entity called the “works council.” To be in compliance with U.S. labor law a union must be recognized before formation of a works council. Unions engage cooperatively with management to improve quality and efficiency and creatively address workplace problems. All other VW facilities worldwide have representation and belong to the VW Global Works Council.
Chattanooga should not be the only facility outside of this system. For the Chattanooga plant to be an outlier weakens its position inside the VW system.
A strong and constructive works council functioning at Chattanooga will encourage internal VW investment in Tennessee, and lead to more good-paying jobs for Tennesseans. A strong local works council will be an advocate for local VW expansion.
To say otherwise is simply unrealistic. Support of the local and the global Works Council will strengthen the facility and help it obtain new product.
VW is founded on respect for employee representation and co-determination, and has risen to become a global leader in the automotive industry by adhering to these principles. The works council is an integral part of the VW corporate structure and is universally considered to be a major component of VW’s success. To attack this system is to disparage VW as a whole.
Another threat being used is the claim that VW unionization will hurt investment by other corporations looking to locate in Tennessee. This may sound rational, but it is not supported by the facts.
For example, the GM assembly plant at Spring Hill, Tenn., has been building cars since 1985 and I challenge anyone to find any proof that this has deterred investment in Tennessee. I have personally appeared with Sen. Corker and Gov. Haslam at product announcements at Spring Hill in recent years and their remarks certainly did not sound like they thought Spring Hill was turning investors away. To the contrary, their remarks indicated they were in full support of the facility and its UAW-represented employees.
My hope is that our public officials will take the time to truly understand Volkswagen’s culture and philosophy of co-determination instead of following the ideological agenda of the Koch brothers-sponsored attack group, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and other out-of-state extremists.
Instead, I wish they would take this opportunity to join with VW Chattanooga workers and the UAW and lead on this issue, which will bring forth the first new model of employee representation since passage of the NLRA of 1935: a model based on full employee participation, cooperation and collaboration.
The UAW embraces the diversity and innovation of the Volkswagen business model. Some around us, unfortunately, have not. Ultimately, we all need to be vigilant when we see that our personal rights and freedoms are being threatened, like those of the Volkswagen employees in their right to choose for themselves, their families, and their futures.
Gary Casteel is a member of the International Executive Board and Director of UAW Region 8, having been elected for three consecutive terms beginning in 2002. Region 8 represents members in 12 states, including Tennessee.
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