WASHINGTON -- A new policy at Volkswagen's U.S. assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, would let organized labor groups hold regular meetings at the factory and engage with plant executives but stops short of extending collective bargaining rights to any particular labor union.
VW details new labor policy for U.S. plant
No collective bargaining recognized; VW to give unions 'access and dialogue'
VW said it has established a “Community Organization Engagement” policy that sets guidelines for company dealings with labor groups accounting for a “significant percentage of Volkswagen Chattanooga employees.” The policy comes after the UAW established a local chapter for employees at the plant earlier this year, which UAW leaders have said has already gained a majority of the plant’s roughly 1,500 workers.
The union lost a highly politicized organizing vote at the plant in February, 712-626.
VW’s announcement doesn’t mention the UAW by name, and the policy cannot be used by a labor group to claim or request recognition as the exclusive collective bargaining agent for any group of employees, according to a summary of the policy provided by VW.
Instead, it says eligible labor groups will be granted three levels of access and dialogue with management based on the number of VW plant employees represented by a particular group.
Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW, said the union planned to meet with VW officials and "remind them of the mutually agreed-upon commitments that were made by Volkswagen and the UAW last spring in Germany."
Among those commitments, Casteel said in a statement, VW is expected to recognize the UAW as the representative of the local's members.
He said the union also plans to help VW verify "the local's substantial membership level, which now is in excess of a majority of workers at the plant."
Casteel said the union would present a letter to plant management requesting that the factory be a “UAW-represented facility.” The distinction is key to establishing collective bargaining rights.
"We believe Volkswagen made this commitment in good faith and we believe the company will honor this commitment," Casteel said. "We appreciate Volkswagen's effort to articulate a policy for how it will engage with UAW Local 42 and its members in Chattanooga. We have questions about this policy, which we'll work through in discussions with management. But this is a step forward in building stronger relations between management and employees."
Terms and conditions
Labor groups representing at least 15 percent of plant workers can hold employee meetings in plant conference rooms during nonwork hours once a month, post announcements and meet monthly with VW human resources representatives to “present topics that are of general interest to their membership,” according to VW’s summary.
Groups representing at least 30 percent of plant workers can meet weekly during nonwork hours, invite nonemployee group personnel to meet at the plant once a month and meet quarterly with the Volkswagen Chattanooga Executive Committee.
If a group represents 45 percent or more of the plant’s employees, it can reserve plant space for meetings “as reasonably needed” and meet biweekly with VW HR officials and monthly the VW Chattanooga Executive Committee.
To be eligible for access under the policy, groups must exist primarily to represent employees and their interests to management under the National Labor Relations Act, the company said.
Membership numbers will be verified by a third-party auditor and updated twice annually.
“We recognize and accept that many of our employees are interested in external representation and we are putting this policy in place so that a constructive dialog is possible and available for everyone,” Sebastian Patta, executive vice president of human resources for Volkswagen Chattanooga, said in a statement.
“Volkswagen has a long tradition of positive employee engagement at our plants around the world and we welcome this in our company.”
The American Council of Employees, a group of workers opposed to the UAW organizing the plant, praised the new policy.
“It is evident that this policy is intended to present employees with a clear choice, and as we have seen over the past several weeks -- hourly and salaried workers alike choose ACE” Sean Sean Moss, interim president of ACE, wrote in a letter sent to members.
“Volkswagen-Chattanooga has now officially recognized the need for a local group that puts the needs and interests of its members ahead of outside political forces. The policy ensures that groups other than the UAW will have a voice.”
David Reed, identified in the statement as an ACE vice president, said: "The UAW has continually lied to the employees. They want us to believe that they have Volkswagen’s support or that they’re the only option. ACE is asking the company to clear up any confusion and guarantee a totally fair process.”
Earlier this week, the UAW told its supporters in Chattanooga that it expected VW's new policy to allow for union representation at the plant.
The UAW said its expectations were based on discussions with the company in Germany and build on a letter of intent signed in September by the UAW and two top German labor groups to organize jointly the workers at the plant.
The two German groups are IG Metall, the powerful union that represents VW workers in Germany, and the Volkswagen global works council, which has blue- and white-collar members from the automaker's plants worldwide.
The Chattanooga plant is VW's only major factory without representation on the global works council.
"We assume that the company will soon examine the number of members of (the UAW's Chattanooga branch) Local 42 and then start the cooperation with UAW," Frank Patta, general secretary of VW's global works council, said in a separate statement.
"This is a good day for the American colleagues and the union movement in Chattanooga," he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.