Documents obtained from Gov. Bill Haslam's office through an open records request shed light into ongoing discussions between local, state and federal leaders and German Volkswagen officials about the possibility of unionization at Chattanooga's VW plant.
—Dr. Thomas Steg is the head of government relations for Volkswagen Group.
—Frank Patta is the general secretary of VW's Global Works Council.
—Ariane Kilian is a government relations specialist for Volkswagen Group.
—Ron Harr is the president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
—Claude Ramsey is the chief of staff for Gov. Bill Haslam.
—Todd Womack is the chief of staff for Sen. Bob Corker.
One of the documents, an email from a former Volkswagen Chattanooga official, indicated that Dr. Thomas Steg, Frank Patta and Ariane Kilian—all German officials—were scheduled to have a series of meetings in Chattanooga and Washington, D.C., Oct. 28.
Steg is the head of government relations for Volkswagen Group. Patta is a general secretary of the Volkswagen Global Works Council, and Kilian is a government relations specialist for Volkswagen Group.
Both Steg and Patta are considered pro-union leaders in Germany.
The Oct. 28 meeting was scheduled ahead of the much-publicized meeting between Gov. Bill Haslam; Sen. Bob Corker; and Bernd Osterloh, Volkswagen AG General and Group Works Council chairman; in November.
Nooga.com sought comment from both American and German officials listed on the meeting schedule in the email, but all declined to comment.
But text in an email attributed to Kilian said leaders were scheduled to exchange ideas on the issue of unionization.
"We are interested in a personal exchange of views on the importance of the experiences with a dual model of participation in the Volkswagen Group," she wrote in the email. "In preparation of the planned top management trip to Tennessee in November, we would like to lead the conversation as a background discussion."
Dual representation is the German unionization model in which there is representation both from an internal works council and an external union.
She said leaders were looking forward to getting to know Claude Ramsey, chief of staff to Haslam, and Ron Harr, president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, "to connect with them with regard to possible questions arising in the future."
Timeline of Oct. 28 meetings
Steg and Patta were to arrive in Chattanooga at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 28 to meet with Ramsey and Harr, according to the documents. Chamber officials wouldn't confirm or deny that meeting. Ramsey never responded to a request for comment.
Next, Steg, Patta and Kilian were to depart to Washington, D.C.
In Washington, D.C., Steg, Patta and Kilian met with Corker's chief of staff, Todd Womack, according to the email. Nooga.com confirmed that the meeting with Womack took place that day in Washington, D.C.
After that, "meetings in the White House" were scheduled, but it's unclear what that means.
Nooga.com requested interviews with several Volkswagen officials in Germany, but the only response received was a "no comment" through a company spokesman at the Chattanooga plant.
Local and state officials also had no comment on the potential White House meetings, and White House officials didn't respond to requests for confirmation and comment.
Relevance of meetings
Kelley Blue Book senior auto analyst Karl Brauer said that it makes sense that leaders from Germany would have meetings in Washington, D.C., because the auto industry is becoming increasingly global, and leaders are working to find out how to mesh work styles.
"Car companies are reaching across oceans, but car unions are also reaching across oceans," he said.
Chattanooga attorney Maury Nicely, who specializes in labor and employment issues, reinforced the potential need for people on both sides of the issue to discuss their perspectives.
"I see this as a meeting between them to have them understand each other," he said.
Details about German delegation
The email also provided American leaders with background on the German officials.
—Steg reports directly to the CEO of Volkswagen AG, Dr. Martin Winterkorn, and is responsible for the group’s external relations and government relations worldwide, according to his bio.
According to documents, the works council was the driving force behind Steg's hire at Volkswagen, and he is "pro-union in Germany."
—Frank Patta is the former head of the regional IG Metall organization, which is a German union.
He's also the brother of Sebastian Patta, Volkswagen Chattanooga’s vice president of human resources.
According to the documents, Frank Patta is the "initiator and driving force of the UAW organizing drive in Chattanooga," and he was the originator of the Oct. 28 meeting.
—Kilian worked to coordinate the October meetings and is married to Gunner Kilian, who is another general secretary on the Global Works Council, according to documents.
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