The German automaker wants the workers at its Tennessee plant represented by a German-style works council, but the final form of representation and whether that includes the United Auto Workers union must be decided by the employees in a formal vote, according to the automaker’s top U.S. executive.
The UAW has pushed VW to accept a German-style labor council at the plant in Chattanooga, which would require the involvement of the U.S. union under American labor law. VW said in September it was in talks with the UAW about establishing such a labor council at the plant, which would be a first for the U.S. union.
“Our strong desire is to have a works council present in Chattanooga,” Jonathan Browning, Volkswagen Group of America’s president and CEO, said in an interview at the Los Angeles Auto Show. “The challenge in a U.S. context is how to bring that into being. That’s obviously the point of discussion in terms of how you actually move forward.”
The UAW, which has lost membership over the past three decades because of increasing automation and job cutbacks by General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Group LLC, wants to organize VW workers to gain a toehold in the U.S. South, where foreign automakers have nonunion factories.
But Browning said any decision on how the workers are represented will ultimately be made by those affected.
“The critical thing that we have emphasized really consistently is that that decision in terms of representation will be taken by the employees and through a formal vote. And so there will be an election process by which the employees decide on how they wish to be represented.”
Browning said the topic has been discussed heavily and employees need to have “informed views” of their options. VW’s board meets this week, but a decision by the board on whether to allow the UAW to represent workers at the VW Tennessee plant, in tandem with a German-style works council, does not seem likely soon.