The United Auto Workers released documents they say shows consensus among Volkswagen leaders that the best route to establishing a works council in Chattanooga is through their union.
“It’s well-established by Volkswagen’s leadership at the Chattanooga plant and in Germany that a works council can only be realized in partnership with a union,” United Auto Workers Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said in a prepared statement. “We have fleshed out a detailed works council concept based on the framework that we jointly developed with the company last year.”
One document is from September 2013 and one is from December 2013; both of those dates are before the UAW lost the election for representation in February 2014.
The third document came from IndustriALL Global Union President Berthold Huber following the election.
A spokesman for the American Council of Employees-a rival to the UAW Local 42-said so much has changed since the election that the documents may not be relevant anymore.
What’s in the letters
The letter that stands out from the others is signed by former VW Chattanooga CEO Frank Fischer and Vice President of Human Resources Sebastian Patta.
The letter is addressed to the plant’s employees and explains the need for cooperation with the union and that Volkswagen was in a dialogue with the UAW.
“In the U.S., a works council can only be realized together with a trade union,” the letter reads. “This is the reason why Volkswagen has started a dialogue with the UAW in order to check the possibility of implementing an innovative model of employee representation for all employees.”
The letter reiterated the company’s position that each team member had a right to make their own decision on whether to support the UAW.
Leading up to the election, VW leaders likely engaged UAW officials about how a works council would work because of the possibility the UAW would be voted in. At the time, the UAW was the only viable option for working with a union because ACE hadn’t been formed yet.
Recently, the UAW submitted plans to the company about how the union and VW could work together to make a works council happen here. The plans are a more detailed version of the agreement between the two parties leading up to the February 2014 election. Click here to read more about the election agreement, which has now expired.
The formation of ACE following the election prompted Volkswagen to create their community organization engagement policy. The policy gives unions garnering adequate levels of employee support access to VW officials. Both ACE and the UAW have since qualified to participate under the policy.
The other two letters are from Huber, who was recently named interim Volkswagen chairman. In the December 2013 letter, Huber expressed support for the UAW. In the letter from July 2014, Huber showed support for the creation of Local 42, which formed after the UAW lost the election.
UAW leaders said these letters show that their plans are the best way to get a works council at the local plant and that they are working with VW leaders to make that happen.
It’s their response to ACE leaders’ recent assertions that the National Labor Relations Act does not allow for the UAW to be the exclusive representative while also delegating some powers to members of a works council.
VW officials don’t comment directly on the issue. They only have said that they are working with both ACE and the UAW under the company’s engagement policy.
“This policy has been a very effective way to start a dialogue with each of the groups, and we intend to continue with the COE policy,” according to the VW statement.
Casteel has said that he doesn’t want another election. Another possible scenario is that Volkswagen would voluntarily recognize the UAW to represent employees.
Whether Volkswagen will do that remains to be seen, given the company’s silence on the issue. This is relatively new territory in the United States, and it’s still unclear how the situation will work out.
If there were another election and the UAW won-or if the company voluntarily recognized the union-several sources closely observing the situation have said that the decision could be challenged and the National Labor Relations Board would take up the issue.
“Especially if the UAW is recognized by card check, I would expect a challenge,” Patrick Semmens with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation said. “There’s a lot of open questions about the UAW’s pitch.”