NASHVILLE—A top labour official at Volkswagen said potential unionization at its only plant in the United States won’t impact the decision on whether to add production of another vehicle.
The world’s third-largest automaker, which is mulling whether to make a new SUV in Mexico or Tennessee, shocked Southern union foes by engaging in talks with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union about creating a German-style “works council” at the Chattanooga, Tenn., plant.
Labour representatives, who make up half of the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker’s supervisory board, have pressured VW management to enter discussions about union representation at the Chattanooga plant because U.S. law would require a works council to be created through an established union.
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,” Bernd Osterloh, a member of the automaker’s supervisory board, said. “And your law says if I want to transfer authority to a works council, I need to work with a union.”
The UAW has said it has collected signatures from a majority of workers at the plant, meaning Volkswagen could recognize the union without a formal vote.
Opponents of the UAW have called for a secret ballot.
Osterloh said he takes no position on whether the company should automatically recognize the union, and that it’s up to management to decide whether to require a vote.
“Volkswagen is led by its board, and not by politicians,” he said. “The board will certainly make the right decision.”
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, has been among the most vocal critics of unionization efforts at the plant.
He has urged Volkswagen to abandon talks with the UAW, suggesting the company would become a “laughingstock” if it welcomed the union into the plant.
Osterloh shrugged off Corker’s comments, and stressed that it’s up to the workers at the plant to decide whether to be organized and by whom.
Osterloh said VW’s decision to build the plant in Tennessee wasn’t an effort to break with the company’s close co-operation between workers and management.
“Volkswagen considers its corporate culture of works councils a competitive advantage,” he said.
Osterloh told The Associated Press in his only U.S. interview that market forces—not union-related issues—will decide whether the plant is expanded.