Volkswagen Accused Of Forcing Workers To Join The UAW?

October 17, 2013

Last week, we told you about the ongoing struggle between Nissan and its workers in Canton, Mississippi. The workers allege that Nissan has engaged in a campaign of intimidation and misinformation to prevent them from joining a union.

A few hundred miles away, in Tennessee, Volkswagen workers are having a very different experience. According to AutoNews, four employees at VW's Chattanooga facility complain that they're being coerced to affiliate themselves with the United Auto Workers union. 

The workers allege that German company officials have said that neither additional jobs or new VW models will be allocated to the Tennessee plant until they agree to be represented by the UAW.

Specifically, the employees allege that they've been told to create a "works council". Works councils are fundamental to Volkswagen's business model in Germany, and the company wants to see one installed in Chattanooga, too.

Works councils are local in scope, but they're usually affiliated with national unions. In the U.S., that would have to be the case: labor laws prohibit works councils unless they're recognized by a countrywide trade union  -- in this case, the UAW. So, if the workers' assertions are accurate, they're essentially being ordered to accept UAW representation.

The worker's claims appear to have some merit. However, the "coercion" doesn't seem to be coming from VW itself, but rather from VW's works councils in Germany. The head of VW's global works council, Bernd Osterloh, says that he and the UAW are in the process of creating a council in Chattanooga -- one in which both blue- and white-collar workers could participate. 

Neither VW nor the UAW has issued a public comment on the matter, but Osterloh's remarks are important because he has a degree of control over VW production. VW is planning a new, seven-passenger crossover, and Chattanooga is on the company's short list of manufacturing sites. If Tennessee employees fail to create a works council, that vehicle -- and the additional jobs it will bring -- could very well go to Mexico.


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