Anti-UAW group can represent VW workers in Tenn.

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Volkswagen AG confirmed this week that an anti-United Auto Workers organization called the American Council of Employees has enough support to represent workers at its assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The automaker said an external auditor verified that ACE met requirements to represent both hourly and salary employees under its Community Organization Engagement Policy that states a group must achieve support from at least 15 percent of the workers it looks to represent.

The labor group, which calls itself a “truly local organization” that has “no outside influence or political agenda,” is an alternative to the UAW, which was designated access to hourly employees last year after failing to garner enough votes to be the sole representative for plant workers.

Mike Cantrell, president of UAW Local 42, created last year to support VW-Chattanooga employees, called ACE a “self-described anti-union group.”

In a November message posted on its website, interim ACE President Sean H. Moss doesn’t call the group anti-union but says its vision is to “step off the path of repeated failure and forge a new way.”

“While we seek to work toward the same goals claimed by the failed union model ... ACE seeks this representation free from the outside influence of union bosses, bureaucrats, special interests and the political agendas that tie them all together,” reads the message.

On a frequently-asked questions portion of its website that isn’t accessible from its home page, a mission is to “keep the UAW out of our plant.”

An ACE representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

Neither the UAW nor ACE have collective bargaining rights for workers at the plant but they have the right to raise questions, ideas, or concerns directly to Volkswagen management at any time on behalf of its members.

However there are differing levels of rights under the labor representation policy depending on the percentage of employees they represent.

ACE, with at least 15 percent support, has the lowest access. It can reserve and utilize on-site locations for meetings on non-work time with staff or employees; post announcements and information in company-designated areas; and meet monthly with Volkswagen Human Resources to present topics that are of general interest to its membership.

The UAW, with at least 45 percent support, has the highest level of access. Besides the rights ACE has, officials may meet quarterly with a member of the Volkswagen Chattanooga Executive Committee; meet bi-weekly with Volkswagen Human Resources and monthly with the Volkswagen Chattanooga Executive Committee; and other in-plant perks.

VW says the labor representation policy was established to allow eligible organizations the “opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue with Volkswagen and its employees.”

In a note to employees that was obtained by The Detroit News, VW said it “will reach out to the ACE in the near future to start the discussion regarding the opportunities available to them under the policy.” A similar note was sent to employees following the UAW verification in December.

Cantrell said the UAW “will continue working toward the process of collective bargaining with the company.”

“We are focused on representing our members and solidifying our partnership with the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, which has said clearly that it wants the Chattanooga plant to be a ‘UAW-represented facility,’ ” he said in a statement.

In December, when the UAW was granted access but not collective bargaining rights, it was nearly unprecedented in U.S. labor history. While it may make it easier to win eventual recognition, it’s not clear what it means in the long term.

Kristin Dziczek, director of the Industry & Labor Group at the Center for Automotive Research, said the “legitimacy of either ACE or Local 42 will be shown by how much of their financial support comes from people that are members of the organization.”

Currently, both are operating without dues from workers. The UAW does not collect dues until a contract is signed. ACE has vowed to have dues up to 50 percent less than the UAW, while not accepting funding “from any organization or individual” that would attempt to influence the organization.

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Detroit News Staff Writer David Shepardson contributed.