March 27, 2013 / 5:00 PM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 1-VW exec says workers to decide if they wish to unionize -CNBC

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March 27 (Reuters) - Workers at Volkswagen AG's plant in Chattanooga Tennessee will make the decision whether they want union representation, and the United Auto Workers is just one option for them, VW's top executive in North America told CNBC on Wednesday.

Jonathan Browning, head of Volkswagen of America, said in an interview on the cable television network that the company expects Chattanooga plant workers to have a strong voice in its operations.

"We expect our employees to have a strong voice in operations all around the world, not just in Chattanooga, but any facility around the world," said Browning.

He said the workers will decide by a vote, but he did not indicate when any such vote would take place.

"Our employees will be the ones who decide," Browning said. "So the employees will decide by a vote whether they want to be formally represented or not and the UAW is one of a number of choices that they may make."

Browning said that Volkswagen has long held this stance regarding workers at Chattanooga. He also did not say what other options for union representation are open to Chattanooga's workers.

Historically, auto plants in the American South have been hostile to unions. In March 2012 the UAW tried to get signatures of support from workers at the VW Chattanooga plant. The efforts never gained traction.

Earlier this month, a letter from a top official at IG Metall, the union that represents VW workers in Germany, to Chattanooga plant workers urged them to join the UAW.

Also this month, Horst Neumann, VW's board member in charge of human resources, said the company was in exploratory talks with the UAW about setting up a German-style labor board at the Tennessee factory.

If the plant's workers decided to join the UAW, they would be the first workforce of a foreign-owned major auto assembly plant to do so in recent years.

Expanding his union's membership by organizing an assembly plant of a foreign automaker has been a goal by UAW President Bob King since his tenure began in mid-2010.

The UAW is hoping that the endorsement of the influential German union IG Metall will boost its efforts to organize workers in Chattanooga.

The union is also active in talking about organizing with workers at two Nissan Motor Co plants, which are in small cities near Jackson, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee.

Browning spoke to CNBC at the New York auto show.

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