Union puts pressure on Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant

The UAW logo is displayed on the podium at a news conference held Thursday, July 10, 2014, at the IBEW Local 175 in Chattanooga, Tenn., to announce the formation of a new local United Auto Workers' union in Chattanooga for Volkswagen workers.

The United Auto Workers continued to pressure Volkswagen to recognize the union in Chattanooga, questioning the company's ongoing challenge to UAW representation during VW's annual shareholders meeting.

An action was brought at the meeting against the VW Executive Board by the UAW at the company's meeting in Hanover, Germany.

Steve Cochran, president of UAW Local 42 in Chattanooga, said Volks- wagen's behavior "violates its own principles of social responsibility as well as the global framework agreement with the worldwide trade union IndustriALL."

VW's skilled trades employees in Chattanooga voted 108 to 44 in December 2015 to align with the UAW. But the company declined to bargain with the group, saying it wanted to allow production and skilled trades workers to vote as one on the matter of union representation. About a year earlier, plant workers had voted against UAW representation 712 to 626.

While the National Labor Relations Board upheld the 2015 Chattanooga election in favor of the UAW, VW appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where the case now stands.

VW Chattanooga plant spokesman Scott Wilson said on Wednesday that Volkswagen respects the right of all of its employees to decide the question of union representation.

"This is why we disagree with the decision to separate Volkswagen maintenance and production workers and will continue our effort to allow everyone to vote as one group on the matter of union representation," he said.

But Gary Casteel, the UAW's secretary-treasurer, said VW management "disregards fundamental labor rights, U.S. labor law and its own code of conduct."

Casteel has said that VW has divided workforce representation within the same plants in Italy, Russia and Spain. He said Volkswagen's own policy for engaging employees in Chattanooga encourages the development of multiple representation groups.

Also presented in Hanover were details of alleged hazardous health and safety conditions and "the anti-union climate" at the VW plant in a report titled "At What Price" by the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), according to the international consumer group SumOfUS.

UAW is being supported by the Association of Ethical Shareholders Germany and the U.S. investment group Change to Win.

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