* VW spokesman in Chattanooga disputes charge
* Corker says VW would make error in allowing UAW in plant
* UAW says most Chattanooga workers support union
By Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman
DETROIT, Sept 10 U.S. executives at Volkswagen
AG's plant in Tennessee were "forced" by a German board member
to sign a letter disclosing the United Auto Workers' efforts to
organize the factory, a move that created distress within the
company, U.S. Senator Bob Corker said on Tuesday.
VW executives said last week in a letter to employees at the
Chattanooga plant they were in talks with the UAW about the U.S.
union's bid to represent workers at the factory using an
"innovative model," which would be a milestone in the union's
long-running effort to organize foreign-owned auto plants.
Corker said the letter, signed by Frank Fischer, chief
operating officer and manager of the plant, and Sebastian Patta,
the plant's human resources manager, was driven by the board
member in Germany and not by the U.S. executives.
VW's German board includes IG Metall union members who would
like to see the UAW organize the Chattanooga plant and bring it
in line with Volkswagen's other major factories around the world
which all have union representation.
"There was a lot of dissension within the company," the
Republican senator said in a telephone interview with Reuters.
"I don't think it, I know it. Candidly, one board member got
very involved and forced this letter to go out.
"I know that it's created tremendous amounts of tension
within the company," said Corker. "Many people thought that this
was a dishonest letter." While it implied that U.S. executives
and others at Volkswagen in Germany fully endorsed the UAW, he
added, disagreement within the largest German automaker may put
that support in doubt.
A Volkswagen spokesman at the Chattanooga plant, Guenther
Scherelis, on Tuesday night disputed Corker's claims.
"The letter to the Chattanooga workforce was drafted,
written and signed by Frank Fischer and Sebastian Patta to avoid
further speculation from outside the company, without being
forced by anyone," Scherelis told Reuters.
The UAW has been working with German union IG Metall, which
represents VW's workers in Germany.
Corker did not identify the board member, although Horst
Neumann, who is also a member of IG Metall, said in March that
the company was in talks with the UAW about setting up a
German-style labor board in Chattanooga, where VW builds the
Neumann is head of human resources for Volkswagen, based in
A former mayor of Chattanooga, Corker said if VW didn't pull
back from allowing the UAW into the Tennessee plant, it risks
becoming a "laughingstock in the business world" and causing a
domino effect with other nonunion auto plants in the South.
However, the production chief for Mercedes said at the
Frankfurt auto show on Tuesday that the German company had no
need for a German-style works council at its plant near
Corker, who was instrumental in VW's selection of
Chattanooga, called the UAW's possible entry into the plant "a
job-destroying idea" and said the UAW's suggestion that it was
more flexible and easier-to-work-with was laughable.
"I've got to believe that the CEOs of the three U.S.
companies are just rubbing their hands, hoping Volkswagen will
carry out this self-inflicted wound," he added, referring to
General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat's
Chrysler Group, all of which have unionized workforces in their
Gary Casteel, the UAW's regional director in the Southeast
who is based in Tennessee, said Corker's views on how the UAW
operates today is "spoken from a position of ignorance." He said
VW had become one of the world's strongest automakers through
its policy of co-determination, where labor has a voice at all
its wholly owned plants except Chattanooga. Volkswagen has about
100 plants worldwide.
"It's ludicrous to think that Chattanooga benefits from
being the only outlier in this system," Casteel said in a
Casteel added the UAW was ready at any time to sit down and
discuss the issues with Corker or Tennessee Governor Bill
Haslam, another opponent of the UAW.
Casteel said the German-style works council approach has
never been tried in the United States.
VW has said that the 2,500 workers at the Chattanooga plant
would ultimately decide the issue in a formal vote on whether to
accept the UAW or any other trade union to represent them. No
such vote has been set. Casteel said the UAW has the support of
the majority of workers at the factory.
UAW President Bob King has been trying to organize
foreign-owned, U.S.-based auto plants to bolster union
membership that has shrunk since its peak in the late 1970s.
King met in late August with VW executives and officials
from the company's global works council, which represents VW
blue- and white-collar employees around the world. The union
said that meeting "focused on the appropriate paths, consistent
with American law, for arriving at both Volkswagen recognition
of UAW representation at its Chattanooga facility and
establishment of a German-style works council."
Corker said VW officials have estimated what allowing the
UAW into the Tennessee plant would cost the company but declined
to say what that figure was. Corker said recruiting companies to
Tennessee would be more difficult if the union were to represent
workers in Chattanooga. He also said it would make Mexico more
attractive to automakers versus the U.S. South.
Casteel said U.S. plants owned by the three domestic
automakers with UAW-represented workers have boosted efficiency
and gained production from Mexico.