published Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Former Chattanooga union supporters accuse UAW of 'back-door deals' with VW

UAW Letter To VW Workers
UAW Letter To VW Workers
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    Gary Casteel, U.A.W Region 8 Director, voices his disappointment after retired circuit judge Sam Payne announced that Volkswagen employees voted to deny representation by the United Auto Workers labor union.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

  • photo
    Volkswagen Chattanooga employees watch as Marc Lemmon signs the UAW charter at a news conference on July 10.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

A new letter to Volkswagen employees from the United Auto Workers says its officials are confident VW will recognize the union if it gains "a meaningful portion" of the workforce as members of its Chattanooga local.

But two former UAW supporters said they don't trust the union anymore, adding that it and VW signed a neutrality agreement leading up to February's plant organizing vote which stated there'd be no organizing activities for a year.

The UAW letter, sent to VW plant employees after the announcement last week that the automaker would bring assembly of a new vehicle to Chattanooga, said union officials have "a consensus" with VW.

Gary Casteel, the UAW's secretary-treasurer, said in the letter the union "is confident that when a meaningful portion of the workforce joins together, the company will recognize Local 42 and deal with the union as the representative of its members."

Casteel said in a telephone interview Tuesday that "hundreds of workers" so far have chosen to join as members to the non-dues-paying local, which was unveiled in Chattanooga about two weeks ago.

"We've got a very substantial percentage," he said.

But a four-year VW employee who was a longtime UAW supporter said he now does not favor recognition of the Detroit-based union, saying it's undertaking "back-door deals" with the company to advance its cause.

"I don't trust them," said VW worker Wayne Cliett. "They can't be trusted to do what they said they were going to do."

The neutrality agreement signed by VW and UAW officials before the election said that "Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, if the UAW does not receive a majority...the UAW shall discontinue all organizing activities at the Chattanooga plant and all other Volkswagen Group of America facilities and locations for a period of not less than one year...."

The UAW lost the election by a 712-626 vote.

Casteel said the UAW isn't operating under an election agreement now, and that the union "is not in an organizing mode."

"We're talking apples and oranges," he said. "That pertained to the election in February. We're not operating under that. We're not moving toward an election."

Casteel also said that the agreement could be modified through mutual consent with VW.

VW did not respond to emailed questions on the issue. Earlier, the company said there was no "formal" agreement between the company and the union related to the local.

Cliett added that another problem he has with the UAW is that it would be "the HR [human resources] manager for the company" if it's recognized by VW.

The neutrality agreement said that if the UAW was certified as the representative of the workers, its collective bargaining negotiations "shall be guided by ... maintaining and where possible enhancing cost advantages and other competitive advantages that VWGOA enjoys relative to its competitors...."

Lon Gravett, a former VW worker who also was a longtime UAW supporter, said the neutrality agreement was "pre-bargaining."

"It was pre-bargaining masquerading as a neutrality agreement," said Gravett, who added that he remains interested in the issue because he knows a lot of the people at the plant and union recognition would impact Hamilton County.

He said if the union turns into "an extension of the company," workers there shouldn't be paying dues for that kind of representation if VW recognizes the UAW.

Cliett also said in a letter he passed out to other VW workers recently that he tried to reach out to the anti-UAW supporters after the election to open a conversation and heal the rift between them.

But he said the UAW has tried to "do everything in its power to destroy my reputation, and also the reputation of those associated with me."

"I do not believe that lies, defamation of character, and gossip will help us achieve our goals," said Cliett.

Cliett said that people who are trying to tarnish his reputation "are proving to the opposition what they had been saying all along about the UAW. This is no way to treat a team member or to organize workers. I still believe solidarity is the answer."

He said he still supports unionizing the plant, but through an independent union of the plant's workers.

Casteel said that he's not aware of any harassment or intimidation in the VW plant. He said VW would be bound by law to look into it.

Another VW plant employee, Jonathan Walden, who joined the local and supports the UAW, said he was excited about its future.

"It will bring us together a little more tightly," he said when the local was announced. "It shows no uncertainty. We are moving forward."

At the plant, VW wants to set up a works council, a panel of blue- and white-collar employees who discuss with the company about such issues as working conditions. It's a separate body from the union, but VW has said that U.S. labor law requires a union to set up a works council.

VW has works councils at nearly all its major production plants worldwide.

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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