Wednesday, July 30, 2014 · 7:06 a.m.

UAW forms local chapter, vows to work toward works council

Union opponents call move a publicity stunt

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About 20 Volkswagen employees helped make the formation of United Auto Workers Local 42 official Thursday afternoon. (Photo: Staff)

About 20 Volkswagen employees signed paperwork making a local United Auto Workers union chapter in Chattanooga official Thursday afternoon.

"We said we would not give up on these hardworking employees, and we haven't," UAW President Dennis Williams said at a news conference held at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers office.

In February, VW employees at the Chattanooga plant voted against union representation in a 712–626 vote. 

The national organization authorized Local 42 in March, and leaders said Thursday that the new union will be housed at the IBEW for now. Members also will not pay dues, yet.

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said that it is an administrative policy that members don't pay dues until 30 days after the first collective bargaining agreement. But, for now, there will be no collective bargaining.

UAW leaders said this is one step toward working with Volkswagen on getting a German-style works council.

Williams said that all Volkswagen plants have the works council model. He said Volkswagen is a proven successful business and that part of the success is because of the works council.

"The state should encourage business models that work, and VW's business model definitely works," he said.

Volkswagen spokesman Scott Wilson said earlier Thursday that there is no official agreement between the company and the union.

"Just like anywhere else in the world, the establishment of a local organization is a matter for the trade union concerned," he said via email. "There is no contract or other formal agreement with UAW on this matter."

But UAW leaders said Thursday afternoon that Volkswagen officials are aware of the formation of Local 42 and that the two parties have arrived at a consensus.

"Upon signing up a meaningful portion of Chattanooga's workforce, we are confident the company will recognize Local 42 by dealing with its members as a member union that represents those employees," Casteel said.

He said that the comment from Volkswagen was not contradictory to what is happening. 

He also said that the UAW remains committed to advocating for a new line to be added at the assembly plant.

One Volkswagen worker, Mike Burton—who headed up the anti-UAW efforts before February's election—said that UAW leaders are trying to take credit for things they have nothing to do with.

"I want to make it clear that whatever announcements are made [about added production at the plant] next week, the UAW had no hand in," he said.

Some are expecting an announcement next week about whether a new SUV will be made in Chattanooga.

Burton also said he doesn't think it's good business to have a local chapter if the company hasn't recognized it.

"It's like going to a car dealership and purchasing a car and not bothering to drive it for several years before you're able to," he said.

Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, which has been involved in supporting employees who don't support the UAW, said that today's move seems like a publicity stunt.

"By all appearances, the plant is moving on without the UAW and doing well," he said via email. "More than anything, this is just an attempt to remind people that the UAW is still around after their election defeat."

He also said that it would be illegal for the company to officially recognize the union until one year after a failed election.

"Simply announcing they are setting up a local [chapter] doesn’t mean much, although it does suggest the union realizes how unpopular the Detroit-based UAW is," he also said. "Maybe another part of it is that the UAW wants it to seem like they are separating the organizing drive in Chattanooga from what is going on in Michigan, where they are voting to increase dues and beef up the strike fund."

UAW employee Kay Gray, who was the first person to sign the paperwork making the local union official, said that this is about Chattanooga.

"This creation of Local 42 isn't about Washington or Detroit or Nashville," she said. "This is about Chattanooga and our team members. This is something we are doing for ourselves and our co-workers."

She also said that this is about workers taking advantage of the door Volkswagen has left open for them.

"The anti-UAW crowd will claim that the union is pushing its way into the plant; that’s not true," she said.

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