Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam: Chattanooga VW workers happy without union

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam: Chattanooga VW workers happy without union

March 21st, 2013 by Mike Pare in Local Regional News

The VW logo is seen on the front of one of dozens of new Passats made at the Chattanooga Volkswagen assembly plant parked outside the plant.

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Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam weighed in Wednesday on reports that Volkswagen is talking with the United Auto Workers about the Chattanooga plant, saying workers like the current nonunion structure.

"I would hate for anything to happen that would hurt the productivity of the plant or to deter investment in Chattanooga," Haslam said in a statement.

The Republican governor said Tennessee is a right-to-work state and that he has talked to a number of VW employees who are "very comfortable" with the way things are now at the factory.

"Volkswagen continues to be incredibly successful with the current structure," the governor said.

He added that VW is an "outstanding employer that puts a lot of focus on employee satisfaction," but the decision regarding a works council and the UAW ultimately will be one for the company and its 3,200 employees.

Horst Neumann, VW's board member in charge of human resources, has said the automaker was in talks with the UAW about setting up a German-style labor board at the plant that produces the Passat sedan.

According to an Automotive News report, Neumann said the company may release a plan for the works council labor board in May or June, and formal talks with a union could begin in the second half of the year if VW's managing board approves.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said Wednesday the issue is whether to develop something like the European model for cooperative labor and management relations.

He said that move is "not the more confrontational model that we are accustomed to in the United States."

Like Haslam, he said the decision "can only be resolved by the company and its employees."

UAW President Bob King said in an emailed statement Tuesday that he strongly believes the German co-determination system is completely consistent with the UAW's 21st century model of unionism.

King said the German system is structured with democratic, elected internal representation of the whole workforce, both blue- and white-collar, along with a union.

"The UAW is very interested in the specific model that VW wants to present in the months ahead, and we are looking forward to open, fair and respectful dialogue, and cooperation with VW as we have expressed in our vision of the 21st century UAW," he said.

King said the UAW is "very proud of its strong, problem-solving relationship with American auto companies. We are proud of the role our members played in saving the domestic auto industry and the role they continue to play every day in producing the best products at the best value for our customers."

The VW plant may become the first auto factory in the United States to create a European-style works council to represent employees, and such a move could provide a foothold for the UAW in the South.