According to a brochure making rounds at the local Volkswagen plant, some employees want union representation, and leaders of the German union IG Metall are encouraging local workers to organize.
The brochure has messages from Volkswagen employees who support union representation,which could allow for the formation of a local works council and representation on the Volkswagen Group Works Council.
“The best way for us to solve problems in our company and contribute to its success is to have a true voice in the company, and the only way to accomplish this is through forming a strong union in our plant,” Eric DeLacy, who works in the VW paint department, wrote in the brochure.
For more than a year, leaders with UAW have been eyeing Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, and in March,reports surfacedthat the organization has talked withVolkswagen AG executives about a German-style labor board at the local plant.
But since the discussions about if and how to unionize have surfaced, not everyone has supported the idea.
In April, leaders of a national right-to-work group said they were worried thatUnited Auto Workersofficials are pressuring Volkswagen to “cut backroom deals” that would force unwilling employees into the union ranks.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit organization aimed at eliminating “coercive union power and compulsory unionism abuses through strategic litigation, public information and education programs,” according to the group’s website.
The group said they would offer free legal aid to workers who felt pressured.
“Employees would be smart to learn their rights ahead of time,”Patrick Semmens, vice president for public information for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, told Nooga.com in April.“There are things that the union organizations won’t tell them, particularly if the company is in some sort of agreement with the union.”
Federal law, a new UAW?
There is a section of theNational Labor Relations Actthat forbids companies to have an internal union, so-as President of IG Metall Berthold Huber explains in the pamphlet-a precondition for having representation on the Global Works Council is union representation.
UAW President Bob King-who is scheduled to leave that post in June 2014-has said that the union doesn’t have a future unless it can organize workers in Southern states, such as Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, according toAutomotive News.
The move for the UAW to work on a German-style system is a way for its union to gain members.And UAW leaders are promising an evolution from the UAW’s more adversarial past relationships with company leaders.
“The UAW is on the cutting edge of a new relationship between workers and employers in the auto industry,” the booklet reads. “We have learned from the crisis in the auto industry and are making fundamental changes to meet the new challenges of the global economy while still providing fairness and democracy in the workplace.”
Volkswagen Chattanooga leaders, such asCEO Frank Fischer and new Vice President of Human ResourcesSebastian Patta, have said that the bottom line of this discussion is that the employees will decide on unionization, according to Nooga.com archives.
And Volkswagen AG leaders want a works council because it would allow them to stay in touch with ideas and thoughts from Chattanooga workers and come to future deals about working conditions,Horst Neumann, VW’s board member for human resources, said, according to Automotive News and Nooga.com archives.
The brochure explains that employees at Volkswagen plants in Germany are represented by the union IG Metall, which has 2.2 million members in auto, steel, electrical, textile, wood and plastic industries.
Union membership is voluntary both in Germany and Chattanooga, according to the brochure.
“IG Metall’s most important task in Germany is to negotiate collective agreements for its members,” according to the brochure. “That is why IG Metall has been able to achieve high wages, a 35-hour workweek, six weeks of vacation, and a holiday and Christmas bonuses. Still, with these high standards, Volkswagen and the German automotive industry are highly profitable and successful.”
Huber said that IG Metall has developed a good relationship with UAW leaders, and he recommends that VW Chattanooga employees decide for the UAW to represent them.
“This would make the contact and cooperation between workforces in the United States and Germany easier and would benefit workers in both countries,” he said, according to the brochure.
More local worker testimony
The brochure featured seven VW employees who endorsed the move toward organization.
In 2011, Justin King, who works on the finish/electrical team, went to the annual meeting of the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council as an observer.
According to thebrochure, he got to see how other VW plants work and how employees address issues and concerns with employers.
“I was immediately struck by how closely Volkswagen works with the many unions that represent its facilities across the globe,” he wrote, according to the brochure. “Works council members, union representatives, and global HR and management employees worked side by side to solve problems and reach solutions that all their employees would find acceptable.”