VW works councils rep vows continued support for UAW in Chattanooga

Frank Patta, speaking to the UAW convention this morning: "We have lost one battle, not the fight."

Photo credit: URSULA ZERILLI
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DETROIT -- The UAW must and will “start anew” at Volkswagen AG’s Chattanooga assembly plant to represent workers there in collective bargaining and on works councils that create labor co-determination with management, the chief labor representative to VW’s works councils worldwide said.

Addressing about 1,100 UAW delegates this morning to the UAW Constitutional Convention, Frank Patta said the UAW election earlier this year was “stolen” because of outside political forces that denied the nearly 1,300 workers in Chattanooga a voice in their workplace.

“We have lost one battle, not the fight,” Patta said via a live video hookup using a German translator. Delegates listened to the speech by the VW Global Group Works Council general-secretary through headphones.

Works councils from German companies are comprised of labor representatives recognized by company management to advocate for worker rights and provide advice to management. And under German law, companies such as VW must maintain supervisory boards with half the members from works councils.

Because of the election loss in Chattanooga, the plant is one of only a handful of VW plants worldwide without a works council. Patta said unions co-determine governance at 100 VW plants worldwide, representing more than 600,000 workers. Even VW plants in China and Russia have works councils, he said.

Patta vowed that VW labor representatives would continue to support the UAW in the organizing drive in Chattanooga and elsewhere where auto workers are without union representation. The UAW also is trying to organize Nissan and Kia workers in the South, among others.

Patta said his group worked closely with the UAW in the VW Chattanooga election drive. Despite careful preparations, worker meetings and neutrality by VW management, political conservatives and other anti-union groups spent more than $2 million on the eve of the election to create the perception that workers could lose their jobs if they voted for the union, Patta said.

“The election has been stolen from us,” he said.

The final vote was 712 against vs. 626 for UAW representation.

Patta said VW works councils have been integral to VW’s success by providing serious worker input into the way plants operate. He said they will be equally successful in the United States and may foster legislation that codifies them.

Patta said: “I’m convinced we will prevail.”

You can reach David Barkholz at dbarkholz@crain.com. -- Follow David on Twitter and


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