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(Reuters) - The United Auto Workers union said on Tuesday it will train workers at Volkswagen AG's (VOWG_p.DE) plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in an effort to form a U.S. version of a German-style works council, while continuing to push for collective bargaining rights at the factory.
Under a new agreement with the German company announced in November, unions that can prove membership at a certain level can hold regular meetings with management on labor issues.
The union said on Monday an outside auditor had confirmed the UAW's local arm represented at least 45 percent of workers at the plant, the highest level in a three-tiered system set up by Volkswagen.
It is the first time the UAW has been recognized at a foreign-owned auto assembly plant in the South.
Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW, said on a call with reporters the union had proven membership of "substantially more than 50 percent" of workers at the plant but would not give specific numbers. A company spokesman also declined to give an exact percentage.
November's agreement falls short of the union's goal of attaining exclusive bargaining rights for all of the plant's 1,500 blue-collar workers. Ten months ago, the union lost a worker vote to become the exclusive bargaining agent.
"We don't know exactly what the pathway to exclusive representation or collective bargaining is," Casteel said. "Certainly that is the end goal."
Another labor group, the American Council of Employees, as of Monday had not filed a list of its supporters to be audited.
Ray Curry, the UAW's regional director in the South, said the union wants to establish a works council at the plant and will be training members of the Local 42 about the German approach to labor-management relations.
In Germany, a works council typically involves both white- and blue-collar workers who elect representatives to participate on a body that is involved in decisions about workplace environment and rules.
Hourly and salaried workers at VW's other plants outside the United States are represented by works councils.
"The idea is to pioneer an American-style works council, with a Tennessee flavor," Curry said on the call.
The UAW is also trying to organize workers at Daimler AG's (DAIGn.DE) Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama, but will likely be unable to follow a similar model there, said Dennis Cuneo, an attorney with expertise in the automotive industry.
Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit, editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Matthew Lewis