WASHINGTON -- The United Auto Workers union said it will propose a German-style works council for Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga and continue its push for collective bargaining for members there following the company’s recognition that the union represents at least 45 percent of plant workers.
VW said Monday that it had verified that the UAW’s membership exceeded 45 percent of plant workers, the threshold required to have regular meetings with company human resources personnel and the Volkswagen Chattanooga executive committee.
"The company will reach out to the UAW in the near future to start the discussion regarding the opportunities available to them under the policy," VW said in a statement.
Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer, said a “substantial majority” of the blue-collar workers at the plant signed cards to join UAW Local 42.
While falling short of the UAW’s long-term goal of winning collective bargaining rights at the plant, the recognition is a historic win for the UAW.
The union now has an official forum to discuss workplace issues with high-level VW plant management, marking the first such arrangement secured by the UAW at a foreign-owned assembly plant in the South. It is a longtime goal for the union, whose membership has dwindled significantly over the last decade.
With its seat at the table, Ray Curry, director of the UAW region that includes VW’s Chattanooga plant, said the union would “soon” propose a works council at the plant modeled after those used at VW plants around the world that give blue- and white-collar workers a say on company decisions and working conditions.
“This initiative will train Local 42 members on Volkswagen’s unique style of labor-management relations,” Curry said in a conference call with reporters today, noting that the makeup and function of such a council remains to be seen. “We will be creating something new and doing it in a collaborative relationship with the global [VW] group works council.”
Casteel, during the call, declined to provide the exact number of workers who joined the local. The plant employs about 1,500 workers.
Seeking collective bargaining
Down the road, Casteel said, the UAW also will continue to push for its ultimate goal of securing collective bargaining rights for workers at the plant. As written, the plant’s so-called Community Organization Engagement policy, under which the UAW is seeking recognition at VW Chattanooga, expressly prohibits collective bargaining by recognized groups on behalf of workers.
But Casteel said the company can voluntarily talk about compensation if it so chooses.
The UAW has ruled out doing another election at VW Chattanooga, Casteel said. And it may not have to do a card check, another organizing process sanctioned by the National Labor Relations Board in which a majority of workers sign authorization cards that a company voluntarily recognizes as sufficient for union representation.
Casteel said it is unclear “what the pathway to collective bargaining is.”
The UAW narrowly lost an organizing election at the plant earlier this year. The union blamed interference from outside groups and politicians for the loss.
Casteel said the union would begin discussions by reminding plant management that VW told the union last spring in Germany that it would recognize the UAW as the representative of its members. He also said the union would present management with a September letter of intent from the VW global group works council expressing its desire for the Chattanooga plant to be a UAW-represented facility.