June 2, 2014 at 12:01 pm

German union official on VW U.S. organizing: 'We will not be beaten'

The head of Volkswagen AG’s global works council said the union still wants a German-style works council for workers at VW’s assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., vowing to step up the fight despite a narrow loss in February.

Frank Patta, general secretary of the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, told 1,100 delegates at the UAW Constitutional Convention on Monday that he believes organizing efforts will be successful eventually at the Chattanooga plant and all over the South.

VW has 105 union facilities with more than 600,000 around the world. The only major non-union facility is in Tennessee.

“Let me say this to our enemies: We will go on... We will not be beaten,” Patta told the delegates, invoking the Bruce Springsteen song: “Working on a Dream” in the long-running campaign to organize foreign plants in the United States.

One of the VW workers from Tennessee is in attendance at the convention, as are two workers from Nissan Motor Co.’s Canton, Mississippi, assembly plant — another factory the UAW has sought to organize.

“We want people to have a say in what happens at their workplace,” Patta said. “The rights of our brothers and sisters are trampled.”

Gary Casteel, a regional director for the UAW who helped oversee the VW organizing effort, blamed well-funded outside groups for the union’s loss. “That victory was stolen from us,” Casteel said. Workers voted 712-626 against joining the union in February.

Patta said U.S. companies and opponents of labor “were using the fear of losing their jobs” to discourage workers from exercising their rights. The move was aimed at ensuring cheaper labor costs, he said.

On Saturday, the Birmingham (Ala.) News reported that pro-union workers at the Daimler plant in Vance, Alabama, say they no longer want to work with the UAW to organize the plant.

“This has gone on for two-and-half years, and people are burnt out,” Kirk Garner, a 13-year employee and union supporter, told the newspaper. “It’s over.”

Several pro-union workers said they want to ask another union to organize the plant. Garner said he spoke to International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Outgoing UAW President Bob King said he thinks the union will be successful. In April, the union decided to drop its appeal this week of the union election with the National Labor Relations Board.

King has said the union is considering a number of options, including a “private election” that could take place later.

“There’s many options under the law. We could wait a year for the NLRB. We could do a private election earlier than that,” King said in April. “There’s a number of different options and we’ll explore all of them to see what we think is best for providing the representation.”

King noted that worldwide VW says that “worker representation is a key part of their success.” The UAW would work with VW to “find the best way to achieve the common goal that we have.”

DShepardson@detroitnews.com