published Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant is center's top priority, director says

Workers at the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga may soon vote on whether to become members of the UAW.
Workers at the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga may soon vote on whether to become members of the UAW.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The effort to block the unionizing of Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant has become the top goal for the newly formed Center for Worker Freedom, the group's executive director said.

"That fight is our top priority," said Matt Patterson, whose organization is a part of the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform.

Patterson said in an interview this week that plans are to ramp up advertising and educational initiatives in Chattanooga to let people know about the negative impact of the United Auto Workers and unions in general. That will include a new website to serve as a resource at which people can get information, he said.

Patterson said plans are to also take his message throughout the South as the UAW works to try to organize other Southern auto plants, such as the Mercedes factory in Vance, Ala., and the Nissan in Canton, Miss.

He said the center plans to tap into the network of people built by ATR, which was founded in 1985 by Grover Norquist. ATR's flagship project is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written promise by legislators and candidates for office that commits them to oppose any effort to increase income taxes on individuals and businesses. In the 113th Congress, 219 U.S. representatives and 39 senators have taken the pledge never to raise income taxes.

The UAW and Volkswagen are looking at establishing a works council at the Chattanooga plant. A works council, which VW has in nearly all of its major plants worldwide, can include blue- and white-collar employees who discuss issues such as work rules, safety and training. VW has said that a union at the Chattanooga plant is needed to set up a works council, or the panel would run afoul of U.S. labor law.

Bob King, the UAW's president, said the efforts at the Chattanooga plant are an opportunity for the UAW with the works council and European labor union IG Metall to focus on "how labor and management can work together."

"In many ways, it's a new standard in the U.S.," said King. "We want the Chattanooga plant to be extremely successful."

The UAW said it has a majority of signatures of VW's hourly workforce in Chattanooga on cards requesting the union to represent them.

King said that having VW simply recognize the cards and recognize the union is the fastest way to establish the works council. But, he said, the UAW isn't opposed to an election at the plant by VW's employees.

Patterson said, however, the UAW has "nothing of value to add" to the Chattanooga VW factory.

He said that under the two-tier pay system instituted at U.S. auto plants where the UAW represents workers, the union can't promise that VW's employees will receive more pay than they do now. Also, Patterson said, due to Obamacare, "gold-plated" health plans that are too rich in benefits will be subject to taxes and are likely to disappear.

Patterson said a works council may operate in Germany, but companies function within a different labor-management system there than in the United States.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com 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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