CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – The United Auto Workers union announced on July 10 the formation of UAW Local 42, a new local that began representing workers at the Volkswagen plant here as of yesterday.
At a press conference here union leaders and workers from the plant, proudly sporting T-shirts emblazoned with “UAW Local 42: Chattanooga, Tennessee,” lined up on stage at the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers building to announce that the new local would support the “works council” approach to worker involvement. Volkswagen’s business model developed in Germany, the union leaders and workers said, includes a works council as a mechanism for worker representation.
“Being part of the creation of an American-style works council is a chance to do something new and different,” said Michael Cantrell, a Volkswagen paint technician. “This is about securing good jobs for the future of the plant and Chattanooga.”
The union officials present said that Local 42 will represent any interested employee at the plant who joins the local as a member but that no workers will be required to join.
“Earlier this year, the UAW was gratified to earn the confidence and support of many Volkswagen team members,” said Dennis Williams, president of the UAW, at the press conference. “At that time we said we would not give up on those committed and hard-working employees. We’re keeping our promise.”
The union has been negotiating with Volkswagen since it narrowly lost a representation vote last February by 712-626. Since the vote came after the spending of millions of dollars on ads by rightwing groups and after threats and even lies from GOP politicians including Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Halsam, the union filed a challenge to the election with the National Labor Relations Board. The UAW dropped the challenge, however, after being assured by Volkswagen that the company was open to finding a route to union representation for its Chattanooga workers.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions with Volkswagen and have arrived at a consensus with the company,” said Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer. Casteel previously held the position of director of UAW Region 8 covering the South. “Upon Local 42 signing up a meaningful portion of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga workforce, we’re confident the company will recognize Local 42 by dealing with it as a members’ union that represents those employees who join the local,” Casteel said.
“As part of this consensus,” he added, “the UAW is committed to continuing its joint efforts with Volkswagen to ensure the company’s growth and expansion in Chattanooga.”
Company assurance to the union notwithstanding, the UAW still has to deal with rightwing politicians in Tennessee who don’t want to see any unions in their state.
Sen. Corker, in fact, was in Chattanooga earlier this week apparently trying to gum up the works. He said he wants to introduce a bill that would allow companies to establish internal labor boards without a union being involved. Such a board would be contrary to the works councils at Volkswagen which have both union and company involvement.
Corker also ran what the union considered a campaign of threats during the representation election drive last winter by telling workers that if they voted for the union the company would not open a second assembly line at Chattanooga.
Now the union is concerned about a promise by the state of Tennessee to grant $300 million in economic incentives for Volkswagen to add that new product line.
“State officials have assured the public and the Volkswagen workforce that the decision on incentives for Chattanooga is not related to whether workers exercise their right to join a union,” said Ray Curry, the newly-elected director of UAW Region 8.
Union officials were also asked yesterday why, considering that outside interference was behind the loss of the representation election , the union had decided to drop its case at the NLRB.
“As Volkswagen’s works council partner, the UAW’s role is to encourage job creation and promote job security so Volkswagen workers can achieve the American dream and Chattanooga’s economy can prosper,” Casteel said. “We withdrew objections to end the controversy and put the focus where it belongs: obtaining the economic incentives necessary to ensure the growth of Volkswagen in Chattanooga and the addition of the new product line.”
Photo: Screenshot from video.