FRANKFURT/SPRING HILL, Tenn. (Reuters) - Germany’s largest trade union and the U.S. United Auto Workers (UAW) said on Thursday they would deepen their partnership and set up an office in Tennessee to boost labor rights at German automakers and their suppliers based in the United States.
Frankfurt-based union IG Metall estimates that 100,000 employees work for German auto manufacturers in the United States.
“We want to help the UAW to comprehensively ensure good working conditions, fair remuneration and genuine employee participation rights in the United States,” said Wolfgang Lemb, an IG Metall executive board member.
For the UAW the partnership is a chance to develop new approaches in representing employees’ interests, said Gary Casteel, UAW vice president and head of its organizing effort at foreign-owned plants.
“The Germans understand better than anyone in the world that what’s best for employees is best for the employers,” Casteel said at a press conference in Spring Hill, Tennessee.
Spring Hill, near Nashville, is where the two unions will set up shop as the Transatlantic Labor Institute at a UAW union hall, near a General Motors Co (GM.N) plant.
The UAW relied on the help of IG Metall that led up to a February 2014 labor representation vote where workers at the Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee rejected the U.S. union.
The UAW also hopes that IG Metall can help it organize workers at the Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE) Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama. There has been less UAW activity at the BMW (BMWG.DE) plant in South Carolina, a staunch anti-union state.
Trade unions are a powerful voice in Germany. IG Metall represents employees’ interests at all major car makers in Germany and unions sit on the boards of all major companies. In the United States unions generally wield far less clout.
The ties between the two unions comes against the backdrop of the emissions scandal at VW.
Lemb dismissed the emissions scandal as a problem of management. “The employees should not be held hostage,” he said.
The German carmaker has opposed a bid by skilled trades workers at its lone U.S. auto assembly plant to be represented by the UAW, saying the timing is bad. The vote is due to take place on Dec. 3 and Dec. 4.
Reporting by Kirsti Knolle in Frankfurt and Tim Ghianni in Spring Hill, Tennessee; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alan Crosby