NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A top Volkswagen labor official says a pending decision about union representation for workers at the automaker’s lone U.S. plant will have no bearing on whether the company will decide to add the production of another vehicle there.
The world’s third-largest automaker, which is considering whether to make a new SUV in Mexico or Tennessee, shocked Southern union opponents by engaging in talks with the United Auto Workers about creating a German-style works council at the Chattanooga, Tenn., plant.
Southern politicians say they fear a successful UAW organization of the Volkswagen plant would hurt the region’s ability to attract future investment, and that it could lead to the spread of organized labor to other foreign carmakers.
But labor leaders like Bernd Osterloh, head of the Volkswagen’s global works councils and a member of the company’s supervisory board, stress that the Chattanooga plant is alone among major Volkswagen plants around the world in that it does not have formal worker representation.
Osterloh visited the plant Thursday and later met with Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in Nashville.
In his only U.S. interview, Osterloh said that while the company’s dedication to co-determination supports the creation of works councils at all its plants, market forces will decide whether the Chattanooga plant is expanded.
Those two things have nothing to do with each other, Osterloh said. The decision about a vehicle will always be made along economic and employment policy lines. It has absolutely nothing to do with the whole topic about whether there is a union there or not.
In Germany, wages are bargained through the union, while works councils negotiate plant-specific matters such as job security and working conditions for both blue- and white-collar employees.
It’s important to note that the issue for us is works councils, not unions, he said. And your law says if I want to transfer authority to a works council, I need to work with a union. Volkswagen considers its corporate culture of works councils a competitive advantage.