UAW gets a toe hold in the South at Volkswagen

Volkswagen on November 12 issued a new policy at its US plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee that should result in its partial recognition of UAW Local 42, a new local of Chattanooga auto workers chartered by the UAW last summer.

The policy entitled “Community Organization Engagement” states that the company will recognize employee organizations that meet company-established thresholds for membership.

According to the policy, employee organizations whose membership is at least 45 percent of the plant’s production workers can meet on company property during non-work hours once a month and will be able to meet with representatives of the plant’s human resources division every two weeks. Representatives of the employee organization may also meet with the company’s executive committee once a month.

Gary Casteel, UAW secretary-treasurer said that more than half of the eligible workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant had joined Local 42. He also said that an independent auditor hired by Volkswagen will conduct an audit to verify the number of Chattanooga workers who are members of Local 42 and that after the verification, Volkswagen would recognize Local 42.

“When the verification is completed, we will take advantage of the company’s offer to establish regular meetings with the human resources staff and the executive committee,” said Casteel.

Volkswagen’s new policy, however, leaves open the possibility that other organizations could be recognized by Volkswagen.

According to the policy, an employees’ organization whose membership is at least 30 percent of the workforce will be able to meet with the executive committee once a quarter.

An organization with at least 15 percent will be able to meet with human resources representatives once a  month.

The American Employees Council (ACE), a new group of Volkswagen workers who opposed the UAW in a union representation election in February has opened an office near the Chattanooga plant and said that it will seek recognition by Volkswagen.

It’s difficult to tell where ACE got the resources to open an office or conduct an organizing campaign, but it shares a common antipathy toward UAW with various right-wing groups that invested heavily in the anti-union effort that led to UAW’s defeat in a union representation election held in February at the Chattanooga plant.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Center of Worker Freedom, which is backed by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, and the National Right to Work Committee spent heavily on an anti-union media campaign before the union election took place.

ACE is also supported by the MacKinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, a political group that supports right to work (for less) laws and charter schools and opposes the expansion of Medicaid.

Vincent Vernuccio of the MacKinac Center told the Detroit Free Press that it would be good for all parties concerned if Volkswagen recognized ACE as well as the UAW.

While the UAW expressed guarded support for Volkswagen’s new policy, the union said that the policy fell short of fulfilling a commitment that Volkswagen made to the UAW last spring.

It was the union’s understanding that if it did two things:

  • Withdraw its appeal to the National Labor Relations Board that the February election was tainted by illegal outside interference and
  • Use its influence with IG Metall, the German auto union whose leaders hold several seats on the Volkswagen Board of Directors, and the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council to convince Volkswagen to build a new assembly line in Chattanooga rather than Mexico

Volkswagen USA would recognize the UAW as the exclusive bargaining representatives for the workers at Chattanooga.

UAW carried out its commitment on both counts. The appeal was dropped and with the backing of IG Metall and the Global Works Council, the Chattanooga plant was tapped to be the home for a new assembly line where a new Volkswagen SUV will be built.

Casteel said that after the UAW is recognized, its first order of business will be to discuss these commitments with management.

“In our first conversation that will occur (with Volkswagen management), we will remind them of the mutually agreed upon commitments that were made by Volkswagen and UAW last spring in Germany: Volkswagen will recognize the UAW as the representative of our members,” said Casteel.

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