UAW, VW labor reps meet

July 13, 2011

UAW, VW labor reps meet

Organizing workers at German firm’s Tenn. plant discussed


United Auto Workers officials met with labor representatives of Volkswagen AG to discuss the organization of workers at the German automaker’s new assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., a German newspaper reported Tuesday.

The business daily Handelsblatt said the meeting followed encounters between UAW President Bob King and top German labor officials, and its purpose was to explain the system of labor representation at Volkswagen.

King has said he wants to organize one of the so-called “transplants,” foreign-owned auto plants located mostly in southern states, to help invigorate the union. But the UAW hasn’t disclosed a target or a timetable.

“For Volkswagen, it’s a matter of course that its employees are unionized,” Michael Riffel, the head of Volkswagen’s global works council was quoted in Handelsblatt as saying. “The decision is up to our colleagues in the United States.”

Works councils in German companies are made up of labor representatives elected by the staff; they don’t necessarily have to be unionized.

But VW, Europe’s largest carmaker, has a long tradition of working with unions, including Germany’s powerful IG Metall, and crafting innovative accords to preserve jobs.

“One of Volkswagen’s core values is the basic right of employees to have a voice in the company,” said Guenther Scherelis, a spokesman for the Chattanooga plant.

“We work hard to provide an environment that fosters teamwork and collaboration. If our employees feel the need for it, any decision on representation belongs to them,” he said.

UAW officials were not available for comment Tuesday.

Last week, Gary Casteel, director of the UAW’s southern region, told the Associated Press that some workers at the Chattanooga plant had reached out to the union, and there had been discussions with VW executives. But he said no official organizing drive was under way.

The plant now employs 1,400 people, including 900 workers making the new VW Passat.

Volkswagen also is leaning strongly toward building another U.S. plant, which would produce premium Audi cars, officials said last week.

A decision is expected next year, they said.

Volkswagen’s last U.S. plant, in New Stanton, Pa., was a UAW plant. Volkswagen closed it in 1988, after 10 years.

© Copyright 2011 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.

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