published Friday, November 15th, 2013

Volkswagen official meets political leaders, workers

  • photo
    Bernd Osterloh, right, head of the Volkswagen workers council, stands next to CEO Martin Winterkorn at the Volkswagen workers' meeting in Wolfsburg, Germany.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Gov. Bill Haslam had a "frank and open conversation" Thursday with a top German labor official who has voiced support for a works council labor board at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant, a Haslam spokesman says.

Spokesman David Smith said the governor met in Nashville with Bernd Osterloh, who heads VW's global works council, and other officials in Haslam's state Capitol office.

The meeting took place after Osterloh and other German VW officials visited the automaker's Chattanooga plant. There, they gathered both with top managers and select workers, said employees.

In addition, Osterloh met with U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga, who along with Haslam, has voiced opposition to unionizing the plant.

"The governor and they [Osterloh] had a frank and open conversation," Smith said in a statement. "They have a tradition of works councils in their facilities, and the governor shared his concern about the impact of UAW [United Auto Workers union] on the state's ability to recruit other companies to Tennessee."

Smith said "it was a very good conversation, and the governor appreciates their time." He did not elaborate on whether anything was resolved.

Also attending Thursday's meeting was Haslam's former top deputy, Claude Ramsey, who as Hamilton County's mayor helped strike the original deal that brought Volkswagen to Chattanooga.

Asked why Ramsey was present, Haslam spokesman Smith said in an email that "Claude has a longstanding relationship with the company from his time as mayor."

Earlier, a group of men left the governor's office with one strongly resembling Osterloh. They refused to stop and speak with a reporter as they left the Capitol and climbed into two VW cars bearing Hamilton County license tags.

Osterloh had scheduled a visit to Chattanooga and Nashville in October, but plane trouble in Germany had postponed the meeting. He was accompanied on his visit by a couple of other supervisory board members.

Volkswagen employee Dave Gleeson said he thinks Osterloh's visit is a positive.

"That's not just because I'm a union supporter," he said about his belief in UAW representation at the plant. Gleeson said he's receiving a lot of information about how a German-style works council operates, but he can only pass that onto other employees in a limited way.

"Getting to talk to actual people [who've experienced it], they'll get better information."

Ed Hunter, another VW employee, said it's about communication.

"That's the whole thing behind this is co-determination," he said. "Everybody is speaking to each other."

Osterloh had told German media this summer that he wanted to talk to some Tennessee Republicans about their opposition to UAW representation at the plant.

Contact Andy Sher at

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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