Volkswagen (VW) and the United Auto Workers (UAW) are cooperating to create a German-style works council at its Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant.
If they succeed, it would be a major coup for UAW President Bob King, who pledged at the beginning of his presidency in 2010 that he would make organizing a top priority.
It would be a setback for Tennessee officials who have used the state’s right-to-work law to recruit companies with the implication they would never have to contend with organized labor.
Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee has opposed the UAW’s organizing efforts both at Volkswagen and Nissan plants, saying UAW representation would hinder Tennessee’s efforts to attract investment.
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The UAW has never organized a U.S. assembly plant owned by Asian or German automakers, except in joint ventures with domestic automakers.
The UAW also has been actively working to organize Nissan plants in Tennessee and Mississippi.
The UAW said in a statement Friday that its representatives met with VW officials last week in Wolfsburg, Germany. Reuters reported that King took part in those discussions.
“The meeting focused on the appropriate paths, consistent with American law, for arriving at both Volkswagen recognition of UAW representation and establishment of a German-style works council,” the UAW said in a statement.
Volkswagen’s Chattanooga factory, which opened in 2011, is the newest assembly plant in the United States. More than 2,500 employees assemble the VW Passat there.
At VW plants, works councils include laborers and executives who cooperate on many issues, ranging from company strategy to job conditions. They do not negotiate wages or benefits.
Frank Fischer, chairman and CEO of the Chattanooga plant, said in a letter to employees that the automaker is open to a relationship with the UAW, but the final decision will be up to the employees.
“By now, there is a very lively discussion in the Chattanooga plant regarding a labor representation,” Fischer said in his letter. “Every single team member makes his or her own decision, and this will be respected by us.”
In April, King said he has always been impressed with German-style works councils.
“I think that one reason Volkswagen is arguably one of the most successful companies in the world is because every single one of their facilities (has) employee representation,” King said then.
But in Tennessee, the UAW may still face an uphill battle even if Volkswagen remains neutral.
In July, a forum hosted by Citizens for Free Markets was held to discuss the “cost and consequences” of UAW representation at VW. A former VW plant manager and a senior fellow from the Competitive Enterprise Institute spoke at the event, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.