Volkswagen suspends worker who wrote letter to lawmakers

New cars await shipment at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant in this file photograph.
photo New cars await shipment at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant in this file photograph.

VW worker letter to the members of the Tennessee General Assembly

I am an employee at Volkswagen-Chattanooga. I have been here since the beginning. During the current session of the Tennessee General Assembly, part of the $300 million incentive package to Volkswagen will be voted on. I am a veteran. I served in the 2nd Cavalry from 1978-80. We ran border operations along the Iron Curtain and served as a trip-wire for a Soviet invasion. I was there when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Our tanks were deployed into the German forests and a lot of Christians were born that night as we prayed to live just 24 more hours. I have clearly made it known to Sebastian Patta that I take great offense to what he and his brother are responsible for. A democratic vote of 712 - 626 occurred last February and the Patta brothers did not like the result and soon trashed that decision. I spent two years defending a democracy in West Germany and for them to come here and spit on ours is sometimes more than I can bear. I was called to HR a week ago to discuss my opposition. I told them that many people fought and died to preserve our democracy and losing my job is a small price to pay. I understand there are a lot of jobs on the line. I benefited from the first round. But, I do struggle with the thought of sacrificing a federally recognized democratic vote for money. The Tennessee Legislature faces a tough decision, but our democracy will do what is right. Sincerely, Eric Wilson

A Chattanooga Volkswagen worker says he was suspended last week after complaining to state legislators that factory officials are trying to circumvent last year's vote that turned back an effort to organize employees.

Eric Wilson, a five-year plant employee, said VW told him he had violated part of a company media policy. Wilson wrote a letter to legislators earlier this year questioning if they should grant incentives for a factory expansion in view of the behavior of the officials.

"We had a democratic vote. ... In my opinion that vote was not honored," said Wilson, who was suspended with pay. About a year ago, the United Auto Workers union lost an organizing vote among workers at the plant 712 to 626.

VW plant spokesman Scott Wilson said he couldn't comment on an individual employee except to say that Wilson was suspended. But the VW spokesman said it has been his practice to let plant employees have their say on the union issue.

"I haven't had an issue with what people were saying in the media," Wilson said.

Late last year, the VW plant approved a community engagement policy permitting labor groups to meet at the factory and with plant executives if certain percentages of workers were represented as members.

The UAW and another labor group, the American Council of Employees, both have earned the rights, though ACE has complained that VW has favored the UAW in the process.

VW has said the policy may not be used by any organization to claim or request recognition as the exclusive representative of any group of employees for the purposes of collective bargaining.

Eric Wilson, who said he is an ACE supporter, stated in his letter that he understand there are a lot of jobs on the line due to the expansion in which VW plans to hire 2,000 more workers in Chattanooga.

"I benefited from the first round. But, I do struggle with the thought of sacrificing a federally recognized democratic vote for money," he wrote.

The suspended employee said he took part in a recent roundtable discussion at the plant with Frank Patta, who is general secretary of the VW Group Global Works Council and has spoken out in favor of the UAW. Patta is the brother of Sebastian Patta, vice president of human resources at the factory.

Wilson said he confronted Frank Patta at the roundtable meeting.

"I wasn't the only one who confronted him. He was confronted with a lot of angry people," said Wilson, a maintenance specialist in the assembly shop.

He said the letter was a chance "to get justice. VW is railroading this over people."

Wilson, who said in his letter that he is a military veteran, added that "I spent two years defending a democracy in West Germany and for them to come here and spit on ours is sometimes more than I can bear."

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Ooltewah, whose district includes the VW plant in Chattanooga, said he was told that Wilson was not dismissed for what he wrote to the Legislature or said about the UAW.

"I was told that there were other issues involved, that they cannot say what they are because it's a personnel issue that they would not release publicly," McCormick said. "But their policy would be to never release an employee because of a relationship with a union."

VW officials have said they want to set up a works council, a labor board of blue- and white-collar employees, which it has at nearly all of its plants worldwide. The panels discuss issues such as training and safety. VW has maintained that under U.S. labor law, a union is needed at the plant for such a panel to be set up.

Reporter Andy Sher contributed to this report

Contact Mike Pare at [email protected] or 423-757-6318.