UAW charters Local 42 in Chattanooga; VW announces expansion

The UAW on July 10 announced that it was chartering of a new UAW local at the Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Members of the new UAW local, Local 42, said that they would begin signing up other workers at the Chattanooga plant. They also said that they expected the company to recognize the union.

“We’ll move forward as a members’ union until we gain the majority, which we feel confident will be very soon.” said Marc Lemmon, a Local 42 member.

“In the very short-term, I think we’re going to be at the bargaining table,” said Jonathan Walden, a Local 42 member.

At the media conference announcing the charter of Local 42, UAW international officials said that the UAW and Local 42  would work with Volkswagen to expand production at the plant.

“The UAW is committed to continuing its joint efforts with Volkswagen to ensure the company’s expansion and growth in Chattanooga,” said Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer

In a related development, Volkswagen on July 14 announced that it was expanding production at the Chattanooga plant.

Local 42 members also said that now that a union was at the plant, the company will likely establish a works council.

Works councils, worker-management organizations at the plant level that make decisions about production, safety, and other matters, are part of the Volkswagen management culture and are present at all Volkswagen plants around the world except in the US and China.

UAW officials and Volkswagen executive management in Germany had discussed establishing a works council in Chattanooga, but those plans hit a snag when UAW lost a union representation election in February.

Establishing a works council without a union that acts as a collective bargaining representative of the workers would have been difficult because a works council without an independent union could be construed as a company union.

Company unions were made illegal in the US by the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 because employers used them to thwart workers’ efforts to organize unions and bargain collectively.

When UAW petitioned for a union election in January, Volkswagen management said that it would remain neutral.

After the UAW lost the election, it filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The complaint said that the election had been tainted by outside interference.

Documents obtained by In These Times, showed that right wing groups like Americans for Tax Reform and the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation had poured money into the anti-UAW effort and had advised anti-union workers at the plant.

Several days before the election, Tennessee’s US Senator Bob Corker implied that a pro-union vote by workers would torpedo plans to build a new assembly line manufacturing SUVs at the Chattanooga plant.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam also suggested that a pro-union vote would prevent Volkswagen from getting state subsidies to expand production.

Sen. Corker and Gov. Haslam declined to cooperate with the NLRB investigation, and in April the UAW dropped its complaint.

When it did so, union officials said that they would shift their focus toward helping Volkswagen expand production at the Chattanooga plant.

“The UAW is ready to put February’s tainted election in the rearview mirror and instead focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga,” said Bob King, the then-president of UAW.

At the media conference announcing the formation of Local 42, the UAW reaffirmed its commitment to help Volkswagen expand production.

“Upon Local 42 signing up a meaningful portion of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga workforce, we’re confident the company will recognize Local 42 by dealing with it as a members’ union that represents those employees who join the local,” said Casteel. “As part of this consensus, the UAW is committed to continuing its joint efforts with Volkswagen to ensure the company’s expansion and growth in Chattanooga.”

Four days after the formation of Local 42, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn announced that the company would invest $600 million dollars in its Chattanooga plant.

The investment will pay for a new assembly line that manufacturers an SUV and a research and development facility.

The expansion will add about 2,000 jobs in Chattanooga.

Casteel in a media statement said that the withdrawal of the union’s election complaint and the announcement that Chattanooga would be the site for the production of the new SUV were related.

“The UAW knew that withdrawing its objections to February’s tainted election, in consensus with Volkswagen, would expedite the company’s decision on the new product line,” said Casteel, “The fact that the new line is being announced four days after the rollout of UAW Local 42 in Chattanooga reinforces the consensus that the UAW has reached with the company.”

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