The United Auto Workers Union and the powerful German trade union IG Metall are forming a joint project to explore new models of employee representation in the United States.
The UAW also announced the National Labor Relations Board has scheduled a representation election for December 3 among skilled trades workers at the Volkswagen of America plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Roughly 200 workers will be eligible to vote. The union lost a representation election in February, 2014, but that ballot included both production workers and skilled trades.
“It’s unfortunate that, in the middle of Volkswagen’s widening emissions scandal, we had to spend weeks debating workers’ rights that clearly are protected under federal law,” said Gary Casteel, UAW secretary-treasurer and director of the union’s Transnational Department.
IG Metall represents autoworkers in Germany and is one of the most powerful labor groups in that country. It holds seats on management boards at all of the major automakers, including Volkswagen AG, and supported the UAW’s efforts to organize the Chattanooga plant.
The alliance with the UAW, according to Casteel, is aimed at improving wages and working conditions for employees at German-owned auto manufacturers and suppliers in the southern United States where traditional unions face enormous opposition from conservative political leaders. So far, the UAW has only been able to gain a foothold in the VW plant and not automotive plants operated by BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
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Another goal is to expand on the principle of “co-determination” between management and employees by establishing German-style works councils, or similar bodies, to promote employee representation, union leaders from both Germany and the U.S. said.
“We are pleased to be part of the new partnership and appreciate the commitment of IG Metall,” said Casteel. “With this new initiative, we can explore new approaches to employee representation and learn more about the globally recognized German labor system.”
The new initiative builds on existing ties between IG Metall and the UAW. Beyond helping open up the VW plant in Chattanooga, IG Metall members on the Daimler World Employee Committee stated their desire for the Mercedes plant in Alabama to be “UAW-represented.”
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Based on automotive industry data, IG Metall estimates that German-owned automakers build approximately 750,000 vehicles in the U.S. — with a total workforce, including German-owned parts suppliers, of about 100,000 employees. Part of Daimler’s operations in the U.S., which are focused on building trucks are already unionized.
But the big Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama is non-union, as is the BMW complex in Spartanburg, S.C.
Both Daimler and Volkswagen have denied attempting to keep unions out of the southern plants and insist the choice of representation is up to the employees themselves.
But in light of the NLRB decision about a vote in Tennessee, Mike Cantrell, the president of UAW Local 42, said “We’re pleased that the NLRB upheld our members’ rights. We’re asking the company to respect the decision and not attempt to further interfere with the election for our skilled trades colleagues.”
(VW officials apologize at LA Auto Show, try to look to future. Click Here for more.)