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UAW Launches New Strategy In Drive To Organize VW Plant

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Newly elected UAW President Dennis WIlliams--file photo. (WWJ/Beth Fisher)

Newly elected UAW President Dennis WIlliams–file photo. (WWJ/Beth Fisher)

jeffgilbert Jeff Gilbert
Automotive reporter for WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBS Radio News....
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CHATTANOOGA, TN — (WWJ) The United Auto Workers Union has decided to form a new union local in the shadow of the new Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. UAW Local 42 is the next step in the unions lengthy drive to organize that facility.

“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 that time, we said we would not give up on these committed and hard-working employees. We’re keeping our promise.”

The union narrowly lost that organizing election. But the close vote gave the UAW encouragement that the plant could eventually be organized.

“The terms of U.S. labor law are that there can not be an organizing drive within one year of an election,” said Kristin Dziczek . This is a patient process to establish a presence in Chattanooga, a local that workers can voluntary join.”

The UAW promises that no worker will be forced to join the local, but says if they can get a majority of the workforce at the plant to agree to join, the expectation would be that Volkswagen would recognize the union.

“We’ve had ongoing discussions with Volkswagen and have arrived at a consensus with the company,” said UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel. “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. As part of this consensus, the UAW is committed to continuing its joint efforts with Volkswagen to ensure the company’s expansion and growth in Chattanooga.”

Volkswagen says it has not made an agreements with the UAW. The company has not opposed the union’s organizing drive, and has allowed the union access to the plant to talk with workers. Volkswagen wants to create a “works council” to give workers more control of decision making. Many labor experts say it needs union recognition to do that.

Volkswagen has also not given any indication on when it will have a decision on the production of a new mid-size SUV that could be built at Chattanooga.

UAW Local 42 will be run by workers at the plant.

“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, and building lasting partnerships between management and team members.”

Tennessee, like Michigan, is a “right-to-work” state, where workers can not be forced to join a union or pay dues.

Opponents of the UAW are likely to keep up their pressure against unionization of the Chattanooga plant. This is seen as a major part of the UAW’s strategy to organize foreign owned car plants in the mostly non-union south.

“It’s a rather large portion of the UAW’s long-term strategy to organize a larger portion of the automotive work force in the U.S,” said Kristin Dziczek, of the Center for Auto Research. “A huge proportion of that is now controlled by international automakers.”

This is not a change in strategy for the UAW, says Dziczek, just a logical next step.

“It’s a very patient strategy.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Email: jdgilbert@cbs.com
Facebook: facebook.com/carchronicles
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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