United Auto Workers says Chattanooga VW unionization on horizon, not everyone on board
The United Auto Workers Union is saying the majority of workers at Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant want union representation. But some local and state leaders say the UAW setting up shop at VW is a bad idea and would hurt the local economy.
The president of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce is speaking out against UAW representing VW workers. He says he recognizes the benefits of a German-style works council, but does not want UAW involved. In the meantime, Volkswagen executives have already voiced support of partnering with the union. And union leaders say a majority of VW workers have signed cards asking for representation.
"We agree that the European works council model has a lot of attraction and appeal. We'd like to see that happen. We don't understand why that has to happen through the UAW," says Ron Harr, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber.
Harr says Volkswagen employees gunning for UAW does not make sense.
"We don't really understand what the issue that's causing this. What problem are we trying to solve?"
Harr points to competitive wages and what he calls "an excellent work environment."
"The wages that workers at VW are getting paid are on par or higher than union represented plants in Tennessee," says Harr.
Production jobs at VW Chattanooga start at $15 per hour and top out at $21 per hour while the average VW employee earns $18.50 per hour. Most UAW workers at the GM plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee start at $15.68 and top out at $19.23 minus their union dues. Some "first-tier" workers can earn more.
Channel 3 stopped by the local UAW office off Volunteer Drive and spoke with the union's national public relations director, Michele Martin, who had just flown in from Detroit. She refused to answer our questions, referring us to Region 8 director Gary Casteel. Casteel has not responded to our interview request, but told the Associated Press a majority of VW workers signed a card, asking for UAW representation, and that the cards are "legally binding" as an election.
Talks of a union forming at the VW plant have been in the works for several months. In March, Volkswagen HR executive Horst Meumann said "The UAW would be the natural partner" to achieve a works-council, which negotiates the pay, benefits and working conditions of employees.
"We'd really like for there to be a secret ballot on this issue of the workers. Let the workers decide and let them do so in a secret ballot," says Harr.
Harr insists a secret vote would yield a different result.
"Just three weeks ago there was a company in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where they announced they were at that point and when it went to a secret ballot, it failed in an almost two to one vote," says Harr.
Harr says the chamber is currently in talks with automotive suppliers who say they will not do business with VW if UAW moves in.
According U.S. labor laws, a union must be involved to facilitate the German-style works council.
We took a closer look at the salary differences between unionized auto workers and current VW employees. According to Bloomberg, Volkswagen hourly wages range between $14.50 and $21 an hour. Auto workers represented by the UAW make an average of $16 to $19 per hour.
A vote to unionize Chattanooga's VW plant could be expected in the coming days. Count on Channel 3 to bring you the latest developments.