Volkswagen executive says no talks with union

Volkswagen executive says no talks with union

August 2nd, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Don Jackson

A top executive of Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant said Monday he knows of no talks between VW officials and the United Auto Workers and the factory already offers a competitive pay package for employees.

Don Jackson, the Chattanooga plant's president of manufacturing, said at a Traverse City, Mich., industry seminar that no one at the local operation has been involved with the UAW, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Jackson stopped short of denying any discussions between the UAW and VW officials in Germany, however.

Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of Edmunds.com, said VW management may view unionizing the plant as "a double-edge sword."

"When you look at how competitive the auto industry is, ... what can be fair and reasonable on an individual worker basis can put a company on an uncompetitive footing," Anwyl said.

UAW southern region director Gary Casteel said last month the automaker has had an organized workforce globally and that makes executives and employees at the new Chattanooga assembly plant "more willing to talk to unions about representation."

Casteel said the UAW has had some VW workers in Chattanooga reach out to the union, and he claimed there have been discussions with VW executives.

Frank Fischer, chief executive of the Chattanooga plant, said recently that a decision on representation will be up to its employees.

The UAW has tried unsuccessfully to unionize the so-called transplants -- factories built in the South by foreign-owned automakers.

Jackson declined to reveal Volkswagen's total labor cost for wages and benefits, according to the Detroit Free Press. The company's hourly wage starts $14.50 per hour, increasing to about $20 per hour over a three-year period.

"We feel like we are very competitive in the market and we have great benefits," Jackson said.

Anwyl said the UAW may see "a bit of an opening" at the VW plant in Chattanooga because of the company's history with unions.

Many of VW's plants worldwide have union representation, including some workers at the company's only other North American plant in Puebla, Mexico.

The question in Chattanooga, Anwyl said, is what would the union offer employees enough to organize them.

"So far it hasn't resonated with other plants," he said about the South's foreign contingent of auto assembly factories.

Anwyl said he's not aware of any kind of UAW representation within VW that would make it different from what it does with the Big Three U.S. automakers.

"They'd need to get voted in," he said.

The $1 billion Chattanooga plant started producing customer cars in May. Sales for the new midsize Passat are expected to start in September at dealerships throughout the country.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.