Thursday, 13 February 2014

Politicians ‘kind of freaking out’: US Volkswagen employees may get works council

In a vote that ends this Friday, workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga (Tennessee) get to decide if they want to be represented by trade union UAW. If they vote in favour of union representation, they will get a German-style works council, a phenomenon almost unknown in the US. VW has vowed not to interfere in the election, as US employers routinely do. As a VW spokesperson explained to the NYT:
Our works councils are key to our success and productivity. It is a business model that helped to make Volkswagen the second-largest car company in the world. Our plant in Chattanooga has the opportunity to create a uniquely American works council, in which the company would be able to work cooperatively with our employees and ultimately their union representatives, if the employees decide they wish to be represented by a union.
Even as the employer says its workers may decide for themselves whether they want to be represented by a union, anti-union groups argue this isn’t a matter that can be left to the workers and the employer, and they are doing everything they can to oppose a pro-union vote. According to Yahoo Finance, Republican politicians are ‘kind of freaking out’ over the idea that workers may join UAW. They have made veiled threats that they will cut future subsidies to Volkswagen if its workers vote pro union.

A Volkswagen spokesperson commented:
It’s sad that when workers exercise their legal right to form a union, some Tennessee politicians are threatening the economic well-being of communities and businesses just because workers want to have a voice in the future of Volkswagen in Chattanooga.
The outcome of the vote will likely be announced this weekend.

Update – UAW is working with German trade union IG Metall to ensure that workers at the Mercedes plant in Alabama also get representation.
Update2 - A majority has voted against joining the UAW. The union is looking into legal options, presumably regarding improper interference in the election. Meanwhile, VW still wants a works council.

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