A top United Auto Workers official said Friday that he's confident Volkswagen will recognize Chattanooga Local 42 by bargaining with it as a members' union.
"In the U.S. system, if you're dealing with an entity, you've recognized it," said UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel.
But an anti-UAW employee at the VW plant predicted a new election pitting the UAW against an independent union trying to organize factory workers.
"We're going to beat [the UAW] and escort them outside the plant," said Mike Burton. "It's a showdown. The loser moves on and leaves the plant."
Casteel, in a meeting with Times Free Press editors and reporters, said he thinks VW will bargain with Local 42 "over things that pertain to those members."
"At some point in time, they may choose to say 'We recognize you as the exclusive representative,'" he said. "That's a whole different thing."
Casteel said the members-only local has signed up "substantially more" than 700 workers out of 1,500 or so that comprised the organizing unit in a February election. He wouldn't give an exact number.
"Worker support has been above our expectations," he said. "We didn't think we'd be where we are as quick as we are."
Three VW plant employees accompanied Casteel and expressed support for the UAW.
"We're excited. We're moving in the right direction," said paint shop worker Jonathan Walden. "It's our decision we're making and we're happy with the decision we've made."
The local was formed as a non-dues-paying unit in early July, five months after the UAW lost the right to organize workers in a 712-626 vote. The Detroit-based union claimed outside interference by Republican politicians.
VW signed a neutrality agreement with the UAW for the National Labor Relations Board election, though it gave the UAW space in the plant so it could talk with workers. VW has said that it wants to set up a works council, a labor board of blue- and white-collar workers that would discuss issues such as safety and employee training, and it needs a union to do so under U.S. law.
VW has said it doesn't have any "formal" agreement with the UAW over the local.
Earlier this week, anti-UAW workers said they're starting to sign up employees for an independent union, they called a chapter of the American Council of Employees. If more than more than 30 percent of the workers who voted in February sign up, it could trigger an election.
Casteel criticized that effort, saying ACE isn't a union and doesn't have a governance structure. He said it's the same people who were talking negatively about Bernd Osterloh, who heads VW's global works council.
"They're not a labor organization," Casteel said. "If they were, they'd be subject to federal reporting."
Burton said the group just started up and hopes to become a union.
"We have so many things that have to be done," he said. "The first thing is to get 30 percent plus one."
The ACE website said it has 200 sign-ups. A question on the website asked, "If we had over 650 signed cards, we would be presenting them to Volkswagen in a heartbeat. Why has Local 42 not done so?"
Casteel, who said he was meeting with local VW officials Friday, added that even if VW recognized the UAW local, he doesn't necessarily expect other Southern auto plants to immediately do so as well.
"I don't see a domino effect," he said. "Each stands on its own."
Casteel also said he doesn't have animosity toward U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican and former Chattanooga mayor who has stated that the UAW would hurt the plant and the state.
Corker said last week that if the UAW had won the plant election, VW would not have announced in July that it will invest $600 million in Chattanooga and hire 2,000 more workers to build a new sport utility vehicle starting in late 2016.
Casteel said Corker's problems with him date back to a product announcement at the General Motors plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., in which UAW members were "kind of rough on him."
"I've reached out repeatedly and am still willing," Casteel said, adding he thinks Tennessee can lead in a circumstance in which "this labor situation shouldn't be party-based."
He cited GM's announcement this week that it will move production of the Cadillac SRX crossover from Mexico to Spring Hill as an example of the union collaborating with management.
Casteel said he expects the Chattanooga UAW local to hold an election for officers in about a month.
"Then we expect there will be a formal cooperation between those officers and the administration at the plant," he said.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.