After signing up a majority of hourly production workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, the United Auto Workers wants to form America's first German-style works council to represent both blue- and white-collar workers.
UAW's No. 2 leader, Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel, said today that the union has given VW a "vision statement" and outline of how the Germany auto maker might have a collectively bargained works council in Chattanooga.
"We think it's an appropriate time to put this model forward and give VW the time to look and study this fully fleshed out model and move toward what we've all been looking forward to for a long time and that is to have represented facility and the first U.S. fully-functioning works council," Casteel told reporters today.
Volkswagen has works councils in which workers and managers discuss and negotiate work rules and processes at all of its major production plants other than the U.S. assembly plant in Chattanooga. The Chattanooga plant also is the only VW production plant where workers are not represented by a union.
VW spokesman Scott Wilson said Volkwagen's Chatanooga management has been meeting with both UAW Local 42 and the American Council of Employees over the past six months. Both labor groups petitioned Volkswagen to gain such labor engagement with the company under VW's Community Organization Engagement (COE) policy.
"This policy has been a very effective way to start a dialog with each of the groups and we intend to continue with the COE policy," Volkwwagen spokesman Scott Wilson said today.
UAW presented signatures from more than 45 percent of the workers and ACE gave VW signaturs from more than 15 percent of the plant employees.
To create a works council under U.S. labor law, Volkswagen would likely have to recognize the UAW or other labor group as the collective bargaining agent for the workers they want to represent, Casteel saide. With 816 VW employees now belonging to Local 42, the union has "a clear majority of the blue-collar workforce in the Chattanooga plant" and UAW should be recognized by VW without another certification election, Casteel said.
In February 2014, the UAW narrowly lost a unionization bid at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga when hourly workers voted 712 to 626 against the union.
But since the UAW started Local 42 in Chattanooga following that election defeat, the union has signed up what it says are 55 percent of the total blue collar workforce, according to union filings with the U.S. Department of Labor.
"We believe the time has come to resume the works council talks that we began with management more than a year ago," Casteel said. "We look forward to productive conversations with the company about the future of Volkswagen's Chattanooga operations."
The original concept, agreed to by UAW and Volkswagen officials as part of a larger election agreement, outlined a framework through which the union and the company could together establish a path for management and employees to cooperate on matters inside the plant, Casteel said.
The union bid could be aided by the new interim chairman of Volkswagen, former union chief Berthold Huber, who has backed the UAW and urged Chattanooga VW workers last year to support the union.
Read more in tomorrow's Times Free Press.