‘There must not be any cooperation between Volkswagon and yellow unions’ – warns German car workers’ union IG Metall

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Iron workers supporting the Chattanooga VW workers campaign for UAW union recognition
Iron workers supporting the Chattanooga VW workers campaign for UAW union recognition

THE head of the German union (IG Metall) representing automotive workers has spoken out against Volkswagen working with anti-labour groups at its plant in Tennessee.

In a statement issued last Friday in Frankfurt, Germany, IG Metall President Detlef Wetzel called on Volkswagen to ‘show its true colours’ in officially recognising the United Auto Workers union as its bargaining partner at the Chattanooga factory once the union proves it has signed up a majority of workers there.

‘It is our objective to guarantee also under the politically difficult circumstances in the United States that labour union rights are respected and codetermination in the plant is possible,’ Wetzel said.

Under German law, worker representatives hold half the seats on the board of Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen, which lends added weight to Wetzel’s position.

It also appears to reflect some concern that a new company policy released last week could serve to undermine efforts by its U.S. ally, the United Auto Workers, to organise its first foreign automaker in the South.

Volkswagen management has been under heavy pressure from union representatives on the board because the US plant stands alone among the automaker’s worldwide facilities without formal labour representation for workers.

The company has voiced support for creating a German-style works council to represent both salaried and hourly workers, but says US law requires it to work with an independent union to create one.

Volkswagen this week established guidelines for giving labour groups that sign up at least 15 per cent of workers access to plant facilities and to regular meetings with management. While the policy would apply to the United Auto Workers, it could also benefit the American Council of Employees, an organisation led by workers who spearheaded efforts to defeat the UAW in a union vote in February.

‘IG Metall will not accept if Volkswagen treats the UAW just as one as those groups who have acted in the past resolutely against the union,’ he said. ‘There must not be any cooperation between Volkswagen and anti-union groups or yellow unions.’

So-called yellow unions are organisations more focused on representing company interests than those of the workers.

Sean Moss, the president of the American Council Employees in Chattanooga, has argued that the group opposes the UAW, but not unions as a whole.

The group’s goal is to ‘present employees with a clear choice and an alternative to the Detroit-led failed alternative,’ Moss said earlier this week.

The UAW decried the influence of Republican politicians and Washington-based anti-union groups in churning up the opposition in advance of the February election. The UAW ended up losing that vote 712-626, and soon filed a challenge with the National Labour Relations Board.

The UAW said earlier this week that it had signed a written agreement with VW management to abandon that complaint and to work toward landing the production of a new SUV (sports utility vehicle) at the plant in exchange for eventual recognition by the company as bargaining partner at the plant.

This week’s labour policy was seen as a key step toward gaining that status, but a lack of detail in the guidelines has left many questions unanswered.

Harvard University labour law professor Benjamin Sachs said the policy commits plant managers to regular meetings with labour groups, but doesn’t lay out any binding outcomes for those talks.

‘On paper that’s not much of a commitment, you could satisfy that by sitting down, listening to what organisations have to say and then leaving’ he said. ‘That’s very different than what the law gives unions, which is a right to bargain.’

Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW, on Saturday released the following statement regarding Volkswagen:

‘We appreciate Volkswagen’s effort to articulate a policy for how it will engage with UAW Local 42 and its members in Chattanooga. ‘We have questions about this policy, which we’ll work through in discussions with management. But this is a step forward in building stronger relations between management and employees.

‘Today, we will begin working with Volkswagen so the company can verify our substantial membership level, which now is in excess of a majority of workers at the plant.

‘When that verification has been completed, we will take advantage of the company’s offer to establish regular meetings with Volkswagen Human Resources and the Volkswagen Chattanooga Executive Committee.

‘In the first conversations that will occur, we will remind them of the mutually agreed-upon commitments that were made by Volkswagen and the UAW last spring in Germany. Among those commitments: Volkswagen will recognise the UAW as the representative of our members.

‘We believe Volkswagen made this commitment in good faith and we believe the company will honour this commitment.

‘Additionally, we will present the Chattanooga plant management with the September letter of intent in which the influential Volkswagen Global Group Works Council expressed its desire for the Chattanooga plant to be a “UAW-represented facility”.

‘Looking ahead: A cornerstone of Volkswagen’s business model is employee representation and participation in the Global Group Works Council. Until now, Chattanooga has been the only plant not represented on the Global Group Works Council.

‘With UAW Local 42, Volkswagen’s employees in Tennessee now can join their fellow team members from around the world in securing a voice in the workplace. The members of UAW Local 42 are excited about the future and stand ready to roll up their sleeves and make Chattanooga a continued success for Volkswagen.’

• While conservative legislators across the country are gearing up to propose extreme legislation, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a statement.

He said: ‘In the wake of last Tuesday’s elections, many state and local politicians have already begun to signal their intent to wage assaults on working people in their states. While national political pundits debate outcomes, the AFL-CIO and its allies also have a keen eye on the developments at state and local levels.

‘There are radical politicians who are far more concerned with appeasing their corporate donors and being a tool for groups like ALEC than standing for working family issues.

‘This is despite the fact that the Raising Wages agenda remain of utmost importance to most Americans. A majority of the electorate are struggling economically and 68 per cent of voters agree that raising wages is good for workers and the economy.

‘The majority of people want rights at work. We want the ability to stay home if we’re sick. We want fair and equal pay. And we believe if you work for and earn a pension, you should get it. Make no mistake that the labour movement is more prepared and ready to combat these attacks than ever before.

‘We also know that this fight will not be the labour movement’s alone. We are fully engaged with our allies in the community and more importantly know that the values we stand for are in complete sync with the majority of Americans. It will take a collective effort to preserve and expand our values, and we are up to the task.’