NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A top Volkswagen labor official says a pending decision about union representation for workers at the automaker's lone U.S. plant will have no bearing on whether the company will decide to add the production of another vehicle there.
The world's third-largest automaker, which is mulling whether to make a new SUV in Mexico or Tennessee, shocked Southern union foes by engaging in talks with the United Auto Workers about creating a German-style "works council" at the Chattanooga, Tenn., plant.
Southern politicians say they fear a successful UAW organization of the Volkswagen plant would hurt the region's ability to attract future investment, and that it could lead to the spread of organized labor to other foreign car makers.
In this June 12 file photo, workers assemble Volkswagen Passat sedans at the German automaker's plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. Volkswagen supervisory board member Bernd Osterloh, head of the German automaker's global works councils, said on Thursday, that the company's decision about whether to add production to its U.S. plant in Tennessee won't hinge on whether workers there gain union representation.
But labor leaders like Bernd Osterloh, head of the Volkswagen's global works councils and a member of the company's supervisory board, stress that the Chattanooga plant is alone among major Volkswagen facilities around the world in that it does not have formal worker representation.
Osterloh visited the plant Thursday and later met with Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in Nashville. In his only U.S. interview, Osterloh told The Associated Press that while the company's dedication to "co-determination" supports the creation of works councils at all its plants, market forces will decide whether the Chattanooga plant is expanded.
"Those two things have nothing to do with each other," Osterloh said during the interview, which was conducted in German. "The decision about a vehicle will always be made along economic and employment policy lines. It has absolutely nothing to do with the whole topic about whether there is a union there or not."
Labor representatives, who make up half of the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker's supervisory board, have pressured VW management to enter discussions about union representation at the Chattanooga plant because U.S. law would require a works council to be created through an established union.
In Germany, wages are bargained through the union, while works councils negotiate plant-specific matters such as job security and working conditions for both blue and white collar employees.