Volkswagen official meets political leaders, workers

Volkswagen official meets political leaders, workers

November 15th, 2013 by Mike Pare and Andy Sher in Business Around the Region

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/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 asher@timesfreepress.com.