published Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Anti-union, UAW efforts full throttle at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant

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Should VW unionize in Chattanooga?
  • photo
    New Volkswagen Passats are seen behind the Chattanooga assembly plant's building front.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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  • photo
    Workers assemble Volkswagen Passat sedans at the German automaker's plant in Chattanooga.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Anti-United Auto Workers petitions circulating at Volkswagen's Chattanooga auto assembly plant have captured signatures of about 30 percent of the plant's workers, an official said Wednesday.

But a UAW regional director is discounting the effort, saying he doesn't think the petitions will have any bearing on discussions the union is having with VW.

All this activity at the plant comes as a top VW labor leader postponed a planned Wednesday visit to the Chattanooga plant, and a meeting with Gov. Bill Haslam, because of plane trouble flying out of Germany.

Mark Mix, who heads the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said VW workers continue to garner names on the petitions.

"I'm impressed with the work of the employees," said Mix. Petitioners are using foundation forms, which indicate that signers don't want UAW representation and are revoking a UAW authorization card if they'd previously penned one.

Mix said that if VW agrees to accept the cards of the majority of the plant's rank and file, which the UAW says it has already captured, the petitions become important in terms of challenging the signatures.

However, Gary Casteel, a UAW regional director based in Lebanon, Tenn., said it's continuing to have employees sign its cards.

"We got out yesterday and had a tremendous response," he said. "We had a crowd around us all day. We get new cards every week."

Mix said the UAW has started sending out letters which reaffirm an employee's authorization.

"It says 'We have your card. This communication reasserts your card,"' he said.

Mix said the letters show that the UAW believes some cards aren't valid because they're too old.

Casteel maintained the UAW is "staying the course" and trying to find ways to make union representation work for the employees.

"We've got a solid majority," he said. "We intend to find common ground to make this happen."

Concerning any future meetings of VW global works council leader Bernd Osterloh with workers and Haslam, Mix said he thinks the visit shows the UAW is worried.

"I'd guess that the UAW here called there and said 'You need to send someone over here to button it up,"' he said.

Casteel said such a trip isn't unusual for "a strong leader and devout trade unionist."

"A lot of Germans struggle with what's happening in Chattanooga," he said. "They don't understand why there's so much political pressure put on workers."

Haslam has said that UAW recognition would hurt economic development in Tennessee. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., also has weighed in, citing Detroit's bankruptcy as what could happen if the UAW gains a foothold in Chattanooga.

The UAW has said it wants VW to recognize the union and the efforts to set up a German-style works council labor board at the plant.

UAW President Bob King has said the union "is very interested in, and has great respect for, the German system of co-determination where the company has strong collaboration with management, unions and works councils."

He also said he wants VW to recognize the union using card check, rather than a secret-ballot vote.

However, the Right to Work foundation is representing eight VW employees who filed charges against the UAW with the National Labor Relations Board. The workers said UAW organizers told them that a signature on the card was a call for a secret-ballot election.

The filing by the foundation asks the NLRB to order the UAW to cease and desist from demanding recognition based upon tainted cards.

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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