U.S. VW executives 'forced' by German boss to sign UAW letter: Sen Corker

Wed Sep 11, 2013 2:30am EDT
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By Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - U.S. executives at Volkswagen AG's plant in Tennessee were "forced" by a German board member to sign a letter disclosing the United Auto Workers' efforts to organize the factory, a move that created distress within the company, U.S. Senator Bob Corker said on Tuesday.

VW executives said last week in a letter to employees at the Chattanooga plant they were in talks with the UAW about the U.S. union's bid to represent workers at the factory using an "innovative model," which would be a milestone in the union's long-running effort to organize foreign-owned auto plants.

Corker said the letter, signed by Frank Fischer, chief operating officer and manager of the plant, and Sebastian Patta, the plant's human resources manager, was driven by the board member in Germany and not by the U.S. executives.

VW's German board includes IG Metall union members who would like to see the UAW organize the Chattanooga plant and bring it in line with Volkswagen's other major factories around the world which all have union representation.

"There was a lot of dissension within the company," the Republican senator said in a telephone interview with Reuters. "I don't think it, I know it. Candidly, one board member got very involved and forced this letter to go out.

"I know that it's created tremendous amounts of tension within the company," said Corker. "Many people thought that this was a dishonest letter." While it implied that U.S. executives and others at Volkswagen in Germany fully endorsed the UAW, he added, disagreement within the largest German automaker may put that support in doubt.

A Volkswagen spokesman at the Chattanooga plant, Guenther Scherelis, on Tuesday night disputed Corker's claims.

"The letter to the Chattanooga workforce was drafted, written and signed by Frank Fischer and Sebastian Patta to avoid further speculation from outside the company, without being forced by anyone," Scherelis told Reuters.   Continued...

The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga ,Tennessee, is shown December 1, 2011. REUTERS/Billy Weeks