VW wants German-style labor model at U.S. plant, but workers must vote

Wed Nov 20, 2013 2:59pm EST
 
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By Ben Klayman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG VOWG_p.DE wants the workers at its Tennessee plant represented by a German-style works council, but the final form of representation and whether that includes the United Auto Workers union must be decided by the employees in a formal vote, the automaker's top U.S. executive said on Wednesday.

"Our strong desire is to have a works council present in Chattanooga," Jonathan Browning, Volkswagen Group of America's president and CEO, said in an interview at the Los Angeles Auto Show. "The challenge in a U.S. context is how to bring that into being. That's obviously the point of discussion in terms of how you actually move forward."

The UAW has pushed VW to accept a German-style labor council at the plant in Chattanooga, which would require the involvement of the U.S. union under American labor law. VW said in September it was in talks with the UAW about establishing such a labor council at the plant, which would be a first for the U.S. union.

The UAW, which has lost membership over the past three decades because of increasing automation and job cutbacks by General Motors Co GM.N, Ford Motor Co F.N and Chrysler Group LLC, wants to organize VW workers to gain a toehold in the U.S. South, where foreign automakers have nonunion factories.

A successful push by the UAW at VW's Tennessee plant would be significant for the union and for organized labor in the United States, where union membership fell to 11.3 percent of the workforce in 2012, the lowest percentage in 76 years.

The UAW has pushed Volkswagen to recognize the union as the representative of workers at Chattanooga, based on cards endorsing the union signed by more than half of the plant's 1,570 workers.

In Germany, a works council represents both blue-collar and white-collar workers. It represents employees on work rules in the plants and some other dealings with the company, but wages and benefits are negotiated by IG Metall. The German union has backed the UAW's efforts.

But Browning said any decision on how the workers are represented will ultimately be made by those affected.   Continued...

 
Models unveil Volkswagen's plug-in hybrid Twin Up! concept car during a presentation at the 43rd Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo November 20, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai