Huge #NLRB Union Election at VW in Chattanooga This Week

Volkswagon and UAW headed to union election

You may or may not have heard about this one.  The National Labor Relations Board is conducting a massive 3 day election at the Volkswagon plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee that will determine  whether or not workers there wish to be represented by the UAW.

Volkswagon has signed a neutrality agreement with the UAW, essentially agreeing that the workers can make the choice via the election with little or no discussion from management.

“Volkswagen may be one of the few employers — if not the first — that has ever explicitly agreed to those principles,” said Gary Klotz, a labor attorney with the Detroit firm of Butzel Long. “It’s almost a dream world for the UAW.”, (USA Today)

Many news reports have inferred that this election is not really about the UAW getting a union contract in place at Volkswagon.  They would have us believe that it is about creating a Works Council. According to a story by Al Jazeera, ”if the union wins, VW would institute a German-style works council, with members elected by plant employees to make key decisions about how the facility is run. The UAW would bargain over wages and benefits, but cede to the council traditional bargaining prerogatives such as work rules and training.”

If this model were to be implemented, it would be a labor relations first for American business. I’ve had some past experience in working with European based companies where such models are commonplace.  It’s not impossible to see how something like this might work, but there is cause for reasonable doubt.

I am not convinced that this isn’t some sort of clever bait and switch deal to get a union in place at a Southern automaker, a key organizational objective for the UAW.  Past promises of progressive labor agreements at Saturn, and a union contract at Volkswagon’s now closed assembly plant in Pennsylvania make such questions legitimate.

Not all workers at Volkswagon are in favor of the union, and some of them are campaigning actively against the UAW before the election.   I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the outcome of the vote, although there will surely be objections from both sides, no matter the outcome.


If you want to know more about the Works Council concept, Wikipedia has a decent description, which I’ve excerpted below.

works council is a “shop-floor” organization representing workers, which functions as local/firm-level complement to national labour negotiations. 

One of the most commonly examined (and arguably most successful) implementations of these institutions is found in Germany. The model is basically as follows: general labour agreements are made at the national level by national unions (e.g. IG Metall) and national employer associations (e.g. Gesamtmetall), and local plants and firms then meet with works councils to adjust these national agreements to local circumstances. Works council members are elected by the company workforce for a four year term. They don’t have to be union members; works councils can also be formed in companies where neither the employer nor the employees are organized.

Works council representatives may also be appointed to the Board of Directors.

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