Labor Voices: Volkswagen should fulfill its commitment

Gary Casteel

Chattanooga –

The executive committee of the powerful IndustriALL Global Union — representing more than 50 million workers in 140 countries — recently adopted a resolution calling on Volkswagen to respect employee rights at the company’s plant in Chattanooga.

While not covered widely by U.S. media, this development has global implications. IndustriALL’s Executive Committee found that Volkswagen’s refusal to bargain with skilled-trades employees in Chattanooga following a December 2015 vote violates U.S. law, as well as an order by the National Labor Relations Board and the company’s Global Framework Agreement with IndustriALL.

The president of IndustriALL is Berthold Huber, who led Volkswagen as the company’s interim chairman through the early days of its DieselGate emissions scandal. In taking action against Volkswagen, Jörg Hofmann, another IndustriALL leader and president of the German trade union IG Metall, noted: “It is not acceptable that companies abide by the law in Germany but disregard it in other countries. Workers’ rights should be respected worldwide — particularly by companies headquartered in Germany.”

Whether intentional or not, Volkswagen’s behavior in Chattanooga mirrors the company’s behavior in the DieselGate scandal. The common thread: Volkswagen’s betrayal of its corporate principles and disregard of U.S. laws.

Volkswagen is better than this. It’s overdue time for the company to abide by the NLRB’s order and meet skilled-trades employees at the bargaining table in Chattanooga.

The current dispute between Volkswagen and the UAW actually dates back to spring 2014, when we reached a written agreement with the company following a plant-wide election in Chattanooga that was marred by outside interference. After the election, UAW and Volkswagen officials met in Germany to discuss a path forward.

In that meeting — led by Volkswagen’s Hans Dieter Pötsch, who now serves as Volkswagen’s chairman — we reached a consensus. The UAW agreed to withdraw our objections to the tainted election, and Volkswagen agreed to recognize the UAW as the representative of its members.

The UAW fulfilled its end of the bargain by withdrawing our objections and forming a new local union in Chattanooga that we believed would be, as promised by Volkswagen, recognized as the representative of its members. Unfortunately, more than two years later, the company still has not fulfilled its commitment — and this failure is part of the reason for the recent action by IndustriALL.

In Volkswagen’s public statements, the company has falsely suggested that it cannot bargain with multiple employee representation groups in Chattanooga. But Volkswagen deals with multiple employee groups in other plants all over the world. Meanwhile, Chattanooga is Volkswagen’s only plant in the world that does not offer meaningful employee representation.

We find this to be unacceptable and we’re glad that our friends and colleagues in IndustriALL and IG Metall agree.

We do not wish to see the revocation of IndustriALL’s Global Framework Agreement with Volkswagen. To the contrary, we believe that employee rights are inherent to any successful and socially responsible company.

But Volkswagen has allowed itself to be bullied by anti-union forces in the U.S. There is some hope that the company will respond favorably to the IndustriALL resolution, abide by the NLRB’s order, and meet the hard-working employees and UAW members at the bargaining table in Chattanooga.

Gary Casteel is secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the international union’s transnational department.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.