(Rewrites throughout with union announcement, UAW and VW
By Amanda Becker
July 10 The United Auto Workers on Thursday
announced the formation of a local union in Tennessee for
workers at a Chattanooga Volkswagen AG plant,
reasserting itself at the site of a major defeat for the union
earlier this year.
The UAW made its move after years of trying to gain a
toehold among foreign automakers in the U.S. South, a region
traditionally inhospitable to organized labor.
The UAW lost an election in February at the Chattanooga
plant, workers voting 712-626 against becoming union members.
"Earlier this year, the UAW was gratified to earn the
confidence and support of many Volkswagen team members," UAW
President Dennis Williams said in a statement.
"At that time, we said we would not give up on these
committed and hard-working employees. We're keeping our
promise," Williams said.
The UAW said that membership in UAW Local 42 would be
voluntary and give VW Chattanooga workers a chance to
participate in the automaker's German-style works council, which
typically includes both blue- and white-collar employees.
Volkswagen officials in Germany want Chattanooga workers to
have a works council, but labor law experts have said that U.S.
labor law would require workers to first be represented by a
union before a works council could be set up.
It was unclear on Thursday whether VW Chattanooga workers
could form a works council unless Local 42 signs up a majority
of plant workers. UAW leaders were unavailable to answer
questions about the local union after a conference call with
reporters scheduled for Thursday afternoon was canceled.
The UAW has had "ongoing discussions" with VW and the union
is "confident the company will recognize" the local union if it
signs up a "meaningful portion" of the VW Chattanooga workforce,
said a statement from UAW Secretary Treasurer Gary Casteel.
A VW spokesman said there is "no contract or other formal
agreement" between the automaker and the union at this time.
"Just like anywhere else in the world, the establishment of
a local organization is a matter for the trade union concerned,"
VW spokesman Scott Neal Wilson said in statement to Reuters.
The UAW's February loss was a major setback for the union.
Its former president Bob King, whose term expired in June, had
vowed to successfully bring the UAW into a foreign-owned
Southern plant, saying that if the union was unable to do so,
its future was in jeopardy.
The UAW asked the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, the
federal agency that oversees union elections and polices labor
disputes, to invalidate the results of the February election and
hold a new one.
The UAW said that VW workers were improperly influenced by
anti-union statements made by Tennessee Republican politicians
and outside interest groups. The UAW withdrew its legal
challenge just hours before a hearing was scheduled to begin in
April. Casteel told Reuters at the time that they were worried
"objectionists" would delay the process.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool)