published Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

VW labor leader links SUV with works council

Should Volkswagen Chattanooga have a works council?

A top Volkswagen labor leader says that forming a German-style works council labor board at the Chattanooga factory is important if the plant wants to produce other VW vehicles.

"We know how important that (second) vehicle is for Chattanooga," said Bernd Osterloh, according to Reuters.

Osterloh, head of VW's global works council, said he plans to meet politicians along with supporters and opponents of the United Auto Workers in the next few weeks. Osterloh was slated to visit the Chattanooga plant and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam last week but his plane was grounded due to mechanical problems in Germany.

An auto industry analyst said the potential new SUV is important to VW's plans to grow its sales in the U.S.

Karl Brauer, senior industry analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said the SUV is one the German automaker "desperately needs."

"VW has two models which are aging," he said. "VW is behind the curve on that process."

A Volkswagen of America official said last month that Chattanooga is the front-runner for production of the SUV which would be based on the CrossBlue model displayed in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Chattanooga is competing with VW facilities in Mexico for the SUV, and a decision is expected as early as next month by top VW officials.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told the German daily Handelsblatt that it would be one of VW's "biggest mistakes" to allow the UAW to represent workers at its Chattanooga plant.

The German business newspaper quoted the former Chattanooga mayor as saying that while VW may be working successfully with other unions across the globe, the UAW would be the wrong partner.

"I think they are being very naive to think that they can bring the German model, embrace the UAW and think it's going to be productive," Corker told the paper.

Also, Haslam, who has expressed worries that UAW representation at the factory would hurt the state's economic development, said in Chattanooga recently that he doesn't understand why VW doesn't hold a secret-ballot vote among plant employees over whether the UAW should represent them.

"One of the basic principles of America is the ability to go in and vote and have a secret ballot," the governor said. "I'm not sure of what the hesitancy is about having a vote."

Haslam said there's lots of confusion by workers who may have signed cards related to UAW organizing at the plant. He said that some believe they signed a card to be in a union, while others did so because they wanted a vote.

"There's one way to clear that up -- have a vote," Haslam said. "I think it's really simple."

The UAW has said that a majority of the plants production and skilled maintenance workers have signed cards authorizing union representation and the set up of a works council. The UAW wants VW to recognize the union based on the cards rather than have a secret-ballot vote.

The UAW has said that it's committed to engaging with VW in "open, fair and respectful dialogue to create an environment where Tennessee workers can participate in VW's global works council system."

But eight plant employees recently filed charges against the UAW with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the union misled and coerced them and other workers during the card-signing campaign.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.

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 ...

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