After several years of campaigning to organise the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on 12th November Volkswagen announced a new policy which includes that with more than 45 percent support, a union can meet once every two weeks with VW Chattanooga’s executive committee.
The United Autoworkers union, UAW and Germany’s IG Metall welcomed the step forward, but want more.
UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel stated: “In the first conversations that will occur, we will remind them of the mutually agreed-upon commitments that were made by Volkswagen and the UAW last spring in Germany. Among those commitments: Volkswagen will recognise the UAW as the representative of our members. We believe Volkswagen made this commitment in good faith and we believe the company will honour this commitment. Additionally, we will present the Chattanooga plant management with the September letter of intent in which the influential Volkswagen Global Group Works Council expressed its desire for the Chattanooga plant to be a ‘UAW-represented facility.’”
IG Metall President Detlef Wetzel said: “We expect VW to show their true colours and accept the UAW as its collective bargaining partner, once UAW proves that they represent the majority of workers.”
The policy announced by VW is not perfect as it opens the possibility for more than one union to represent workers and act as the company’s bargaining partner. A small yellow union exists at the plant.
UAW Local 42 was set up in July to organize and represent workers at the VW plant in Chattanooga. It has been supported throughout their campaign by IG Metall, the Global Works Council at VW and by IndustriALL Global Union.
The Chattanooga plant is the only VW facility in the world without worker representation. Local 42 under the newly elected leadership of president Mike Cantrell and vice president Steve Cochran will take its place on the VW Global Works Council. Until now it has been the only plant not represented on the global body where workers and management regularly meet to set corporate policy.
Outside influence from well-funded anti-union lobby groups makes a free and fair workplace election impossible at VW in Chattanooga. For that reason the union is following a different organizing strategy to empower workers with a voice and industrial relations structure in their workplace.
Volkswagen is setting an industry example in defying anti-union politicians and other pressure in the Southern United States to work with the UAW and respect international labour standards. The UAW is also campaigning to organize workers in a hostile environment at Mercedes-Benz in Alabama, and Nissan in Mississippi.