Volkswagen labor to outline UAW stance to U.S. plant workers

WOLFSBURG, Germany Thu May 24, 2012 4:20pm EDT

WOLFSBURG, Germany (Reuters) - A top German union official will explain to hourly employees at Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE) U.S. plant in early June that his group will not pressure them to join the United Auto Workers union, the automaker's top labor representative said on Thursday.

The UAW is relying heavily on the IG Metall, which has members on VW's works council, to help it organize German-owned U.S. plants because the German union has influence with VW management.

While the VW works council supports the UAW's efforts to organize workers at the company's plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it will not use its influence to help the U.S. union, works council chief Bernd Osterloh said at VW's headquarters here. The works council is the labor counterpart to company management, consisting of representatives from all the factories and brands in the VW group.

"Of course, we will support the UAW; we've said that all along," Osterloh told reporters. "But there's one thing we cannot do. We can't take workers at VW Chattanooga by the hand when it comes to voting (on UAW representation). One has to be in favor if one wants union representation."

Osterloh said works council general secretary Frank Patta will outline the labor group's position to the Tennessee factory workers in early June.

UAW officials declined to discuss Osterloh's comments.

UAW President Bob King has repeatedly said the future success of his union depends on organizing the U.S. plants of foreign automakers, including Daimler's (DAIGn.DE) Mercedes and Japan's Nissan Motor Co(7201.T). However, many of those plants are located in the South, where anti-union feelings are stronger and union membership levels are lower.

VW executives have repeatedly said it is up to the workers in the plant whether the UAW represents them, a stance plant spokesman Guenther Scherelis reiterated on Thursday. VW builds the Passat sedan in Tennessee.

In March, sources said the UAW solicited signatures of support from workers at VW's Tennessee plant in an early formal step needed for union representation. However, at meetings with plant employees, comments by some workers that the UAW was not needed in the factory were met with loud applause.

Osterloh said the works council would support the formation of some type of lobbying group to represent the Tennessee workers if they rejected the UAW, but did not explain what format that would take.

"Should workers determine they don't want a union, we would make efforts to bring about some sort of interest lobby," he said. "It's important that this site has a voice on the global works council."

Osterloh said it was up to the UAW and not the works council to convince the U.S. hourly employees.

"Sentiment in the southern U.S. isn't exactly in favor of unions," he said. "We'll make sure that the UAW has a real chance. If the workforce doesn't want this though, then we have a problem."

After three decades of declining membership, the UAW faces a financial crunch that has been exacerbated by the U.S. economic downturn. This has forced America's richest union to sell assets and dip into its strike fund to pay for activities.

(Writing and additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit)