August 15, 2014 / 11:00 PM / 5 years ago

UAW says union membership near majority at VW Tennessee plant

DETROIT, Aug 15 (Reuters) - The United Auto Workers, which lost a controversial organizing vote in February at a Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has nearly enough members in its newly formed local for the automaker to recognize it as exclusive bargaining agent for the plant, a top union official said on Friday.

If the union is able to prove to Volkswagen that it has support from a majority of the plant’s approximately 1,500 hourly workers, VW can select it as the exclusive bargaining agent for all of them, despite the loss to UAW foes in the vote.

Gary Casteel, UAW secretary-treasurer, would not say how many VW workers are now UAW Local 42 members, but said there are enough to have won the February election. The UAW lost by a 712-626 count, which means that Local 42 has at least 670 members, which Casteel confirmed.

UAW Local 42 was established five weeks ago.

A VW Chattanooga spokesman on Friday said he could not comment on whether the company will recognize the UAW as exclusive bargaining agent if the union can prove that it has support of most workers.

Casteel that while VW and the UAW “have a consensus” that the company will recognize the new union local, he cannot say whether VW will name the union exclusive bargaining agent if it can prove majority support at the plant.

“I would never attempt to speak for them as others have,” he said, in a jab at Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker, a UAW foe.

Corker said during the February vote that VW would not give the plant a job-creating new model to build if the UAW was voted in. But last month, VW announced that it would create 2,000 jobs at the plant to build a mid-sized SUV. {ID:nL2N0PP0FA]

The UAW contends that Corker’s statements unfairly influenced the February vote, but Corker said he was only offering pertinent information to workers.

The UAW is in need of a win at Chattanooga to bolster its membership and show that it can organize a foreign-owned auto plant. In a rarity, VW is not opposed to the union, though officially, it has maintained neutrality.

Mike Burton, a leading anti-union VW worker, said on Friday that VW would be going against the wishes of most workers if it recognizes the UAW. He said the company and union have drawn closer since his side won the February vote.

“Volkswagen is ignoring the majority opinion as expressed in a democratic election,” said Burton. “We feel cheated out of our victory by the way Volkswagen is aligning with the UAW.”

In order for VW to establish a German-style works council, which typically includes both blue- and white-collar employees, in Chattanooga it must have a U.S.-based union to represent workers on wages and benefits, most labor experts say. (Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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