Volkswagen AG has held discussions with the United Auto Workers union about setting up a Germany-style works council at its assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., which would entail unionizing the facility’s workforce.
Human resources chief Horst Neumann tells reporters that VW may propose such a plant in April or May. If the company’s supervisory board approves, labor negotiations could start as early as the second half of this year. The UAW would be the “natural partner,” Neumann adds.
UAW President Bob King has made organizing the U.S. plants of foreign carmakers a top priority. The union has been struggling to make headway at Japanese-owned factories. But it has established ties to Germany’s IG Metall union.
Under the German system, a company negotiates a national agreement with its union or unions. Works councils are elected by the workers at each plant to bargain with management about adapting that pact at the local level.
Establishing a works council in the U.S. without a union could cause legal trouble for VW, according to Neumann.
He says he isn’t sure if the UAW wants to adopt the system because it would require the union to cede some control over pay, benefits and working conditions.