published Saturday, October 12th, 2013

UAW says union won't cost local jobs at Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant

Factory workers perform diagnostics on a Passat before it is taken through a dyanometer in the assembly section of the Chattanooga Volkswagen Plant.
Factory workers perform diagnostics on a Passat before it is taken through a dyanometer in the assembly section of the Chattanooga Volkswagen Plant.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
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If Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant lands a new product and hundreds more jobs, locals won't stand in line behind United Auto Workers members from other factories to find work if the union gets in, a UAW official said Friday.

Meanwhile, a group of VW workers trying to keep the UAW from organizing the plant said they have raised their anti-union petition count to more than 600 signatures of hourly employees.

The activity engulfing the factory comes as top VW officials in Germany weigh whether to recognize the UAW using authorization cards purportedly signed by a majority of plant workers or require an election by secret ballot.

The Chattanooga plant's front-runner status to land the assembly of a new sport utility vehicle has prompted questions about whether UAW members from elsewhere might receive preferential hiring for added jobs if the union gains recognition here.

Gary Casteel, a UAW regional director based in Lebanon, Tenn., said union members cannot just transfer from one automaker to another.

"There's no multiemployer contract," he said. "The contracts we have are with individual companies."

Casteel said transferring from one plant to another within a company does happen, such as occurred in the case of General Motors' factory in Spring Hill, Tenn.

"There's no provision to transfer from company to company. The intent is to keep existing employees employed," he said, adding that unions don't hire or fire people.

The UAW has contracts with all of the Detroit Three automakers -- GM, Ford and Chrysler. However, the union is trying to organize plants run by the so-called transplant car companies such as VW, Nissan, Toyota and Mercedes.

In Chattanooga, the UAW is talking with VW about a German-style works council, a panel of blue- and white-collar employees that typically discuss issues such as training and work schedules. The UAW reported last month that it has a majority of the hourly workforce at the factory on cards authorizing the union to represent them.

Union officials want the automaker to recognize the UAW using the cards in what it calls a less divisive way than holding a secret election.

Anti-union group

However, a group of workers in Chattanooga has countered, setting up a "No2UAW" website and asking employees to sign its anti-union petition.

VW employee Mike Burton said Friday they've garnered 602 signatures in about three weeks. The figure is up from 563 about a week ago, he said. Burton said if the group gathers about 20 added names a day, it can get close to half of the estimated 1,500 to 1,600 production and skilled maintenance workers at the plant.

"We're still going to win," he said. Burton questioned whether the UAW still has a majority. He said a worker's signature on the petition voids a signed UAW card.

Burton, a paint shop employee, said the effort began after some workers were unhappy with what they saw the UAW doing.

Eight workers represented by the National Right to Work Legal Foundation brought charges against the UAW with the National Labor Relations Board. The workers said UAW coerced and misled them. The UAW has denied the charges.

Bo Poteet, another anti-UAW petitioner, said he's not necessarily against a union, but doesn't like the UAW. He cited the money the union has given to Democratic political candidates who support entities such as Planned Parenthood, the nation's single biggest abortion provider.

"The UAW is not the answer," Poteet said. "They're not the best thing for our plant. Look at Detroit."

However, the UAW has said the auto companies with which it has contracts and their employees represented by the union are prospering.

At Spring Hill, for example, GM in August unveiled a new $167 million infusion that, coupled with an earlier plan to invest $187 million, could lead to production of a pair of new SUVs there. GM also said the investment will create or retain 1,800 jobs at the Middle Tennessee factory that now employs about 2,000 people.

"We're doing fine," Casteel said.

Also, on the timing of a decision by VW regarding card-check representation, Casteel said Friday there's no timetable, but added that "I can't see this process going for an extended period of time."

Volkswagen Group of America officials in Herndon, Va., have maintained that the automaker's Chattanooga workforce will decide on a works council through "a formal vote."

At the same time, however, a top VW labor leader who serves on the powerful supervisory board and other key officials from Germany are expected to travel to Tennessee within weeks to talk with employees about a works council and address concerns about the UAW expressed by some state political leaders including Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.

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

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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