Workers assemble Volkswagen Passat sedans at the German automaker's plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Erik Schelzig / Associated Press)
Employees at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., will vote by secret ballot next week to determine whether the United Auto Workers will represent employees through a works council-style system.
Volkswagen said Monday that the National Labor Relations Board will hold the vote Feb. 12-14.
“Volkswagen Group of America and the UAW have agreed to this common path for the election,” said Frank Fischer, chairman and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga, in a statement. “That means employees can decide on representation in a secret ballot election, independently conducted by the NLRB. Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.”
The UAW said in September that a majority of employees signed cards to join the union. Last month, the NLRB general counsel’s office dismissed a complaint made by two workers challenging the process.
The UAW has made organizing foreign automakers one of its key efforts after decades of defeats. UAW President Bob King in Washington said that without well-funded opposition by conservative groups there would be no need for a vote of employees.
VW has come under heavy pressure from Republicans who have pressed it to take a tougher line with the union — and said if the union is successful it could harm the state’s reputation for attracting new business.
If approved, the VW Chattanooga pact would be the first works council created in the U.S.
“Volkswagen is known globally for its system of cooperation with unions and works councils,” UAW President Bob King said in a statement. “The UAW seeks to partner with (Volkswagen) and a works council to set a new standard in the U.S. for innovative labor-management relations that benefits the company, the entire workforce, shareholders and the community. The historic success of the works council model is in line with the UAW’s successful partnerships with the domestic automakers and its vision of the 21st-century union.”
Volkswagen recently has faced pressure from its Global Works Council, which represents workers at major VW plants around the world, to implement a works council system at the automaker's lone U.S. assembly plant. A German-style works council is different than the current labor setup of the UAW: Councils consist of a group of white- and blue-collar workers who meet with company management to discuss plant issues.
If a works council is approved, the plant would have a spot on the VW Global Groups Works Council, according to the UAW.
Historically, labor has been integrated closely with Volkswagen: Half of the 20 seats on the automaker's supervisory board must be labor representatives under German law.
The union, however, must comply with U.S. labor laws. The works council must be part of a trade union; otherwise it could be perceived as a company-sponsored union, which is illegal.
King has tried unsuccessfully to organize workers at U.S. auto plants run by foreign carmakers. The union is less than one-third the size it was four decades ago.
Volkswagen has a bit of history with the UAW, which organized workers at the automaker's former assembly plant in Westmoreland County, Pa., in 1978. A Mitsubishi plant in Illinois that started as a joint venture with Chrysler Corp. currently has workers represented by the UAW.
Melissa Burden contributed.