published Friday, April 26th, 2013

Hamilton County Commission eyes anti-union stance on Volkswagen plant

Volkswagen builds vehicles in Hamilton County.
Volkswagen builds vehicles in Hamilton County.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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The Hamilton County Commission may throw its weight behind opposing unionization at Volkswagen Chattanooga, after Commissioner Tim Boyd said Thursday that labor organizing at the plant could harm economic development.

The United Auto Workers has been courting VW to organize its labor force, and the company has hinted at starting a German-style labor council at its Chattanooga plant in coming months.

During an agenda session Thursday, Boyd asked Chairman Larry Henry to draft a letter for commissioners to sign supporting the anti-union stances of Gov. Bill Haslam, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association.

"If UAW gets a hold on [Volkswagen] it will be like a cancer on economic growth in Hamilton County," Boyd said.

Henry said he would look into the issue. But it was his impression the conversation was slowing down, if not stopping.

If the automaker decided to organize a works council at its Chattanooga plant, it would be a first in the United States. At the same time, Chattanooga is the company's only plant without union representation.

When asked after the meeting about the proposed letter, Henry said he wanted to let VW make its own business decisions before getting involved.

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"It's my understanding that they are not going to follow through with it; ultimately I think we need to see exactly what direction Volkswagen is going."

On Thursday, the automaker was mum on the subject.

Chattanooga VW spokesman Guenther Scherelis declined to comment on Boyd's remarks except to say that plant employees will decide whether they want to set up a works council and join the UAW.

J.Ed. Marston, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of marketing, said the Chamber hasn't heard anything from VW of late on the issue.

"The UAW is the only one trying to keep this alive at this point," he said.

The UAW did not respond to emails or phone calls requesting an interview Thursday. Last month, UAW President Bob King said in an emailed statement the "UAW is very interested in the specific model that VW wants to present in the months ahead, and we are looking forward to open, fair and respectful dialogue, and cooperation with VW as we have expressed in our vision of the 21st century UAW."

Staff Writer Mike Pare contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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