By Ben Klayman
March 27 Workers at Volkswagen AG's
plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will decide whether they want
union representation, and the United Auto Workers is just one
option for them, VW's top executive in North America said on
Jonathan Browning, head of Volkswagen of America, said in an
interview at the New York auto show that the company expects
Chattanooga plant workers to have a strong voice in its
"We certainly are interested in hearing from the employees
as to whether they believe formal representation is something
that they desire," he told Reuters.
"If employees vote in favor of formal representation, then
it's important to understand that there are a number of
alternatives that may or may not include the UAW."
Browning said no such vote has been scheduled and the issue
is in the very early stages of discussions. He added that as far
as he knew VW's supervisory board also had not discussed the
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. Browning said the IG Metall
letter and Horst's comments "moved the discussion along
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.
VW's U.S. officials have long held the view that its
workers in Tennessee will decide whether to accept the UAW as
their voice in negotiations. Browning on Wednesday said the
alternatives could include other unions or the hourly workers at
the Chattanooga plant possibly forming their own union. He
called the creation of a new union a "remote possibility."
Browning said he had no idea what the time table for the
issue might be, but said it was "complex" and would take time to
work out. "There are a lot of people engaged and participating
in the discussion so I wouldn't expect a quick resolution."
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,
Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said at the auto show
on Wednesday that it wasn't the first nor would it be the last
time the UAW tries to organize his company's U.S. plants. He
said the workers at those plants would decide that issue, but
added the company prefers direct communication with its
Ghosn more directly opposed the UAW in 2001. As a union
vote was drawing near at the company's plant in Smyrna,
Tennessee, Ghosn made a big-screen video pitch to workers at the
plant. "Bringing a union into Smyrna could result in making
Smyrna not competitive," he said.
Smyrna workers turned back the UAW, 3,103 to 1,486.
Also at the auto show on Wednesday, Hyundai Motor
America head John Krafcik declined to comment on the
UAW's desire to organize the company's U.S. plants. A
spokeswoman for Daimler AG's Mercedes said the German
automaker was neutral on the subject and union representation at
the company's Alabama plant was up to the workers.
Browning also said on Wednesday that VW is studying building
a mid-sized SUV based on a concept vehicle shown at the Detroit
auto show in January and officials have said a decision is
expected some time this year. He said such a vehicle would be
built in North America, but that would be decided as part of the