VW workers may block southern U.S. deals if no unions: labor chief

BERLIN Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:38am EST

A general view of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga,Tennessee February 14, 2014. REUTERS/Christopher Aluka Berry

A general view of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga,Tennessee February 14, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Christopher Aluka Berry

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Volkswagen's top labor representative threatened on Wednesday to try to block further investments by the German carmaker in the southern United States if its workers there are not unionized.

Workers at VW's factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last Friday voted against representation by the United Auto Workers union (UAW), rejecting efforts by VW representatives to set up a German-style works council at the plant.

German workers enjoy considerable influence over company decisions under the legally enshrined "co-determination" principle which is anathema to many politicians in the U.S. who see organized labor as a threat to profits and job growth.

Chattanooga is VW's only factory in the U.S. and one of the company's few in the world without a works council.

"I can imagine fairly well that another VW factory in the United States, provided that one more should still be set up there, does not necessarily have to be assigned to the south again," said Bernd Osterloh, head of VW's works council.

"If co-determination isn't guaranteed in the first place, we as workers will hardly be able to vote in favor" of potentially building another plant in the U.S. south, Osterloh, who is also on VW's supervisory board, said.

The 20-member panel - evenly split between labor and management - has to approve any decision on closing plants or building new ones.

Osterloh's comments were published on Wednesday in German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. A spokesman at the Wolfsburg-based works council confirmed the remarks.

"The conservatives stirred up massive, anti-union sentiments," Osterloh said. "It's possible that the conclusion will be drawn that this interference amounted to unfair labor praxis."

Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker, a staunch opponent of unionization, said last Wednesday after the first day of voting that VW would award the factory another model if the UAW was rejected.

The comments even prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to intervene, accusing Republicans of trying to block the Chattanooga workforce's efforts.

Undeterred by last Friday's vote, VW's works council has said it will press on with efforts to set up labor representation at Chattanooga which builds the Passat sedan.

(Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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Comments (193)
SR37212 wrote:
Right now Chattanooga is a very vibrant city with a lot of positive feelings. They are in working towards being the high tech center of the South. Having VW there is nice but I get the impression that if VW left they believe they’d soon have another company arrive to replace them.

I was not a fan of our Governor but he seems to be making all the right moves to turn Tennessee into a place companies will want to relocate. He’s planning on offering high school graduates 2 free years of regular college or tech school education. That alone ought to up the stakes.

Feb 19, 2014 7:43am EST  --  Report as abuse
There’s too much information trying to equate the German work councils to the traditional American labor unions. The work councils are more like the site based decision councils at public schools. Everyone realizes the shared interests and works together. VW employees didn’t vote down the work council representation, they voted down the UAW. Had the NLRB changed the regulations to allow the works council, instead of saying it had to be tied to a labor union, it most likely would have passed.

Feb 19, 2014 8:01am EST  --  Report as abuse
Doc00001 wrote:
Anathema! Wow, what a cool term to define our government. Vehemently disliking the working class for their desire to participate in the American economy beyond being draft animals.

Feb 19, 2014 8:58am EST  --  Report as abuse
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