Volkswagen deal with UAW could take months at the Chattanooga factory

Volkswagen deal with UAW could take months at the Chattanooga factory

September 19th, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Chanee Baker installs a tunnel shield to the chassis of a Volkswagen Passat on the production line.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should VW unionize in Chattanooga?

A Volkswagen official said Wednesday that it may take months to hammer out an agreement over a works council labor board at the Chattanooga factory, and talks with the United Auto Workers likely could extend to 2014.

Sebastian Patta, the plant's vice president of human resources, told VW workers during an "all-team meeting" that talks on the issue have just started. He said VW must settle complex legal issues before setting up a works council.

Reuters first reported Patta's remarks, and a VW official confirmed them.

The UAW, after months of organizing efforts, said last week that a majority of the plant's employees have signed cards requesting union representation and a works council, the German-style labor board common in VW's factories worldwide.

The company could simply accept and recognize the cards, or it could call for a secret ballot election in which the 2,500 or so workers at the factory would vote to authorize the UAW to represent them, labor experts said.

The UAW has said it would like to have VW approve the card-check option.

But union opponents said that a secret-ballot election is needed to assure openness.

Patrick Semmens, vice president for public information for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said petitions have started going around the plant and oppose "having a union imposed on them through card check."

Semmens said he understands that a couple of hundred names have been turned in so far. He said that if a worker pens the petition, any card signed earlier is effectively revoked and should not be counted as a sign of support for unionization.

"Delivering copies of the petitions to VW lets the company know that these cards are disputed and should not be relied on to impose the union by card check," Semmens said in an email. "Even with statements from VW that they are not in any rush to recognize the workers, it is still important that people sign petitions to make it impossible for a secret ballot vote to be bypassed."

However, Gary Casteel, a UAW regional director based in Lebanon, Tenn., said card check is "the least divisive way to do it. It's as binding and legal as any vote."

Casteel said this week that more discussions with VW were expected, and the UAW would continue to seek signatures on its cards.

"We've got a majority," he said. "The company isn't disputing that."

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