Casteel: UAW committed to VW workers

Casteel: UAW committed to VW workers

April 29th, 2014 Gary Casteel in Opinion Columns

Following discussions last year between Volkswagen and the UAW, we were excited that Volkswagen employees would have the opportunity for representation and a different approach to securing a voice in the workplace through the "works council" model for employee engagement.

We didn't anticipate what happened next. What began as a sincere effort to collaborate with the world's second-largest automaker and its hard-working team members to pioneer an innovative form of co-determination and employee representation unfortunately turned into a heated public fight led by politicians including Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.

Outside influence flooded into Chattanooga to disrupt a February election among Volkswagen employees to determine representation. Media reports showed the Haslam administration withheld $300 million in state and federal incentive funds that would help secure the future of the Chattanooga plant by adding a second production line for a new vehicle. Troubled by the political interference, the UAW objected to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The politicians refused to participate in the process, and the public debate dragged on.

Last week, the UAW put a stop to all the back-and-forth. We did so in the best interests of Volkswagen employees, the company and job creation in Chattanooga. The union withdrew its objections to the tainted election, knowing the dysfunctional NLRB process could take months or even years to resolve. We put the disagreements in the rearview mirror, but we will continue advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga.

Now, we are asking Gov. Haslam to do the same. We hope the governor will immediately extend the incentives that he previously offered to Volkswagen for the new production line, and do so unconditionally. Volkswagen's successful business model is premised on employee representation, and the state should encourage business models that work.

We believe putting incentives back on the table -- as the state would do for any other large manufacturer and job creator -- will make the economics work for the new vehicle production line. This will mean more jobs for Chattanooga and more job security for current Volkswagen employees.

Meanwhile, the UAW believes congressional scrutiny into the Haslam administration's withholding of incentives, which included a significant amount of federal funds, will help protect workers and job creators in the future. No company should be required to disrupt its business model, and disenfranchise employees, in order to do business in Tennessee.

Looking ahead, the UAW's focus is on Volkswagen employees, the company and job creation in Chattanooga. We were gratified in February's election to earn the confidence and support of more than 600 Volkswagen team members. We will not turn our back on these hard-working employees.

We commend Volkswagen for its statement that the UAW's decision to abandon the NLRB process "provides an important gesture for a constructive dialogue in Chattanooga." Further, we agree with the company's call for all involved to work together to "create good, secure jobs in Tennessee," and set up an innovative form of co-determination and employee representation, which is standard practice for the Volkswagen team all over the world.

The UAW wants Volkswagen employees, and the citizens and taxpayers of Chattanooga to know that we are committed to this community and committed to future collaboration.

Gary Casteel is the director of UAW Region 8, which includes Tennessee and 12 other states.