Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker met with Volkswagen AG Works Council Chairman Bernd Osterloh Thursday to discuss the issue of unionization at the local plant, and Osterloh said that the pending decision about whether and how to organize won't impact production in Chattanooga, according to The Associated Press.
The meeting comes after years of relatively quiet efforts from United Auto Workers leaders to organize Volkswagen Chattanooga.
When those efforts started gaining more strength recently, Haslam and Corker spoke out against the UAW. Some workers also pushed back against the UAW, whose leaders claimed they had support from at least 51 percent of employees.
A group of employees started the No2UAW website in an effort to educate other workers and to push for a secret ballot vote on whether the UAW should have a part in the local unionization.
Reuters reported last month that Osterloh said that having a works council is important to producing a second vehicle in Chattanooga.
In his interview with The Associated Press, Osterloh noted that the issue for Volkswagen AG leaders is about a works council, not a traditional American union.
But the National Labor Relations Act forbids companies to have an internal union, so organizing the local plant can’t be done exactly like the German model. That's why the UAW has gotten involved—to potentially provide the third-party representation needed.
A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam said via email Friday morning that the governor had a frank discussion with VW AG leaders.
"They have a tradition of works councils in their facilities, and the governor shared his concern about the impact of UAW on the state's ability to recruit other companies to Tennessee," he said. "It was a very good conversation."
Haslam, Corker and local leaders from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce have all said that they think a UAW presence will hurt manufacturing and business recruitment, ultimately hurting the local economy.
Corker met with the leaders in the Nashville International Airport.
"Sen. Corker had a long, in-depth and candid discussion with the Volkswagen delegation in Nashville on Thursday evening, and he looks forward to continuing the discussion," Todd Womack, chief of staff, said in a prepared statement.
Mike Burton, the local Volkswagen employee who headed up the No2UAW efforts and gathered petitions from people who don't want UAW representation, said Friday that he doesn't have an opinion about the politics of the situation outside of the plant.
"My focus is to educate the team members and let them make a rational decision if and when the UAW calls for a secret ballot election," he said via text message.
The Associated Press also reported that Osterloh said—in his only U.S. interview—that the local market will dictate whether the Chattanooga plant gets another product and expands operations.
"Those two things have nothing to do with each other," Osterloh said during the interview, which was conducted in German, according to The Associated Press article. "The decision about a vehicle will always be made along economic and employment policy lines. It has absolutely nothing to do with the whole topic about whether there is a union there or not."
That comment is in line with what Bill Visnic, senior analyst with online automotive and shopping outlet Edmunds.com, has said on the issue. Ultimately, expansion is a business decision, he has said.
Osterloh also said he doesn't have a position on whether the company should recognize the support the UAW leaders said they have, AP reported.
Haslam's office confirmed last week that this meeting with Osterloh would take place but wouldn't provide more details on when it would happen.