published Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

Letter sparks union debate at Volkswagen; Tennessee restarts talks with automaker

The chassis of a Volkswagen Passat travels along the production line.
The chassis of a Volkswagen Passat travels along the production line.
Photo by Tim Barber.

United Auto Workers opponents and the union continue to spar weeks after the worker vote at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant, even as the state and VW talk about restarting meetings over a possible factory expansion.

"We've talked to the company about a meeting, but nothing is scheduled at this point," Clint Brewer, a state Department of Economic and Community Development spokesman, said Friday about re-engaging VW.

The state earlier proposed a nearly $300 million incentive package if VW put a new sport utility vehicle and 1,350 production and "headquarters" jobs in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, an anti-UAW website is charging that the union continues to try to organize plant workers in violation of its neutrality agreement with the company, an allegation denied by the union.

The website, "no2uaw," said in an open letter to UAW Regional Director Gary Casteel that the union agreed in the neutrality document to discontinue all organizing activities at the plant for a year if it lost the February election.

It complains about a letter Casteel sent to VW employees dated April 21, the day the UAW pulled its National Labor Relations Board appeal for a revote.

The website also cited a 2009 letter the UAW submitted to the U.S. Foreign Trade Zone opposing VW jobs in Chattanooga, and it said the union had been implying that the plant wouldn't get the expansion to accommodate production of an SUV without a works council and UAW.

"And you lost the election. So why you are still sending us letters? Looks a lot like 'organizing activity' to us. ... Tell us, Mr. Casteel: What is it about the word "NO" that you don't understand?" said the website statement signed by "the Team Members of Volkswagen in Chattanooga who voted NO."

Casteel said in the April 21 letter that while the union was disappointed with the vote, it still believes a works council and UAW representation "can provide the foundation for productive and respectful labor relations." It added, "we have not wavered in our commitment to helping Volkswagen employees achieve this goal."

He said the union has asked VW to bring the new SUV production line to Chattanooga.

Casteel also mentioned the withdrawal of the NLRB appeal, saying the UAW "accomplished its primary goal" to inform the public about "the unprecedented interference by anti-worker politicians and third parties."

On Friday, Casteel said in an email that VW hasn't indicated it has any problems with the union's activities.

"Our neutrality agreement is with VW only, so the only party that can object to our activities is VW and they are not objecting," he said, adding that he hasn't ever seen the no2uaw website.

VW plant spokesman Scott Wilson said the company doesn't view the UAW's April 21 letter as a violation.

He said the letter went out before, or simultaneous with, the NLRB's certification of the election.

"It's not after," he said. "I don't think it would be a violation."

VW workers voted by 53 percent to 47 percent not to align with the union.

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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