UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said that the union is advancing its plan to become not only the works council partner at Volkswagen of America’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, assembly plant but the plant’s collective-bargaining agent as well.
In a conference call Thursday, Casteel said the UAW has fleshed out its prospective role for creating and being represented on a German-style works council that would provide formal employee input into how the plant operates.
“This is the appropriate time to put this model forward,” Casteel said.
A union local that the UAW formed at the plant last year, UAW Local 42, represents 816 workers. That’s a clear majority of the roughly 1,500 hourly workers at the plant.
Casteel said on Thursday that the union also expects to represent some salaried workers below the rank of supervisor at the plant.
One of a kind
Casteel said VW Chattanooga is the only VW assembly plant worldwide without a works council. Having one would give workers a voice in the plant’s direction as well as provide the plant with representation in the worldwide VW organization to fight for product placement and investment. On a works council, workers and management jointly decide the strategic direction it should take.
Today, worker representation through the UAW is limited to regular meetings with company human resources personnel and the Volkswagen Chattanooga executive committee under the plant’s Community Organization Engagement Policy.
That policy was created last year after the UAW narrowly lost an organizing election at the plant. Casteel declined to say how quickly the UAW would expect VW Chattanooga to recognize the union as its works council partner.
The UAW's latest moves come as VW is spending $900 million and adding 2,000 jobs at the Chattanooga plant to increase capacity for a new mid-sized SUV. Production on the vehicle is expected to begin in late 2016.
Meanwhile, in Germany, labor leader Berthold Huber has been installed as interim chairman of Volkswagen Group following last month’s ouster of longtime chairman Ferdinand Piech.
Huber is the former head of Germany’s powerful IG Metall trade union and a vocal proponent of the UAW’s efforts to organize the Chattanooga plant, urging workers there to join the UAW in 2013 letter, Reuters reported at the time.
In a prepared statement in response to the UAW’s April disclosure of its Local 42 membership totals, a VW-Chattanooga spokesman said the company plans to continue meeting with officials from both the UAW and the American Council of Employees, a rival labor group at the plant, as allowed by VW’s Community Organization Engagement policy.
“The policy has been an effective way to maintain dialog with each of the groups and we intend to continue with the COE policy at this time,” VW spokesman Scott Wilson said in a statement.
In December, the UAW said it planned to propose a German-style works council at VW’s plant in Chattanooga while continuing its push for collective bargaining for members there following the company’s recognition that the union represents at least 45 percent of plant workers.
As part of its new works council submission to VW, the UAW proposed that the union first be designated as the collective-bargaining agent for workers at VW Chattanooga. Then, worker roles on the works council could be negotiated through that collective bargaining.
Casteel said today that VW could voluntarily recognize the UAW as that collective-bargaining unit.
Casteel reiterated that the union has no intention of holding another union election given the ability of VW Chattanooga to recognize the union without going to those lengths.