published Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

VW official proposes talks about possible works council at Chattanooga plant

The Chattanooga Volkswagen plant is seen in this aerial photograph taken in March 2012.
The Chattanooga Volkswagen plant is seen in this aerial photograph taken in March 2012.
Photo by Dan Henry.
WHAT'S NEXT

Citizens for Free Markets, a group concerned about the UAW's efforts to organize VW's Chattanooga plant, will hold a public forum Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Embassy Suites near Hamilton Place mall.

  • photo
    Gov. Bill Haslam answers a question during a news conference in this file photo.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The head of Volkswagen's global works council says he's willing to engage in "confidential talks" with Republican U.S. politicians who are worried about such a panel being set up at VW's Chattanooga plant.

"I am happy to sit down with the Republican politicians around the table to hear where their concerns lie," Bernd Osterloh told the German daily newspaper Handelsblatt on Monday.

Osterloh, who also sits on the German automaker's powerful supervisory council, added that whether VW's Chattanooga workers pick the United Auto Workers to represent them at the plant is their decision.

Union representation is needed to set up a works council in the U.S., officials have said, and Osterloh noted that's a different model than in Germany and "we have to respect that."

Two of Tennessee's highest-profile Republicans, Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, both have questioned the need for a works council at the Chattanooga factory.

Gov. Haslam has said the possibility of the plant becoming unionized is coming up as a topic of concern among other industries the state is trying to recruit to Tennessee.

Corker has added that "the leadership at the [Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce] believes that if the UAW established a stronghold in our area, it would be a negative."

Haslam and Corker weren't immediately available for comment Tuesday.

Matt Patterson, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center For Economic Freedom and who opposes the works council idea and the UAW, said that Osterloh's comment "tells me they're worried that politicians speaking out is having an effect."

Patterson said a works council is unworkable under U.S. labor law and there's nothing that German labor leaders can tell U.S. politicians that would change that.

Works councils represent employees, even white-collar workers, in discussions with the company about such issues as pay and working conditions, and it's a separate body from the union.

In the article, Osterloh said that VW has a corporate culture in which employee participation is "a key success factor." The Chattanooga plant is the only major VW facility that does not have a works council.

Osterloh termed VW's return to the U.S. with its Chattanooga plant "successful." He also said VW needs a new sport utility vehicle to meet customer demands in America, adding the vehicle could be built in Chattanooga or Mexico.

Osterloh said he expects a decision by November.

"Until then, we should have made considerable progress about the question of employee representation," he said.

Patterson said he sees that linking a works council to where VW will build the SUV is "a bald-faced threat."

"I don't think they know how irritating that is to Tennesseans," he said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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