Yesterday, Volkswagen AG (VW) released their long-awaited new labor policy, which comes as welcome news to the United Auto Workers (UAW) and other labor groups. The so-styled Community Organization Engagement policy is noteworthy in that it will provide labor groups with differing levels of access depending on the number of VW workers in their ranks. For example, the greater the number of workers in a given labor group, the more likely that group will be able to meet and confer with management officials.
A VW official explained the rationale behind the new policy in a short statement:
“We recognize and accept that many of our employees are interested in external representation, and we are putting this policy in place so that a constructive dialogue is possible and available for everyone,” said Sebastian Patta, executive vice president for human resources at Volkswagen Chattanooga. “Volkswagen has a long tradition of positive employee engagement at our plants around the world, and we welcome this in our company.”
Labor groups with a high volume of members could even be granted meeting space at VW’s Chattanooga facility, where they would be allowed to speak to management. Those groups would presumably be allowed to post notices on the premises as well. A given labor group must count at least 15 percent of VW’s employees to be “recognized” under the policy.
Surprisingly, the UAW has reacted warily to the new policy:
“We appreciate Volkswagen’s effort to articulate a policy for how it will engage with UAW Local 42 and its members in Chattanooga. We have questions about this policy, which we’ll work through in discussions with management. But this is a step forward in building stronger relations between management and employees,” said Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW. “Today, we will begin working with Volkswagen so the company can verify our substantial membership level, which now is in excess of a majority of workers at the plant. When that verification has been completed, we will take advantage of the company’s offer to establish regular meetings.”
As the reader may recall, the UAW suffered a highly-publicized defeat at VW’s Chattanooga, TN plant back in February of this year. Despite running unopposed, the union still lost the election by a count of 712 to 626. The UAW subsequently filed objections to the election, but those objections were withdrawn. The UAW claimed that it withdrew its objections because Tennessee politicos were refusing to participate in the National Labor Relations Board’s investigation.
Even though the union lost the VW election, the UAW opened a new local mere miles from the Chattanooga plant. Membership in Local 42 is strictly voluntary as of now. However, labor watchers speculate that Local 42’s end-game is to earn official recognition from VW without having to hold a union election.
The UAW union has remained active throughout the Southeast despite losing the election last February. However, it remains to be seen if the so-called “Southern Strategy” will be successful. While results have not exactly gone the union’s way so far, labor watchers expect the UAW’s organizing efforts to continue apace. We here at @LRToday will be following the implementation of this policy and the UAW’s organizing efforts closely, so stay tuned.