UAW, German auto worker union to announce joint efforts

Berthold Huber, a five-year veteran from Germany's IG Metal labor union and currently Volkswagen's interim chairman, has been a vocal proponent of the UAW's organizing drive at VW's plant in Tennessee. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

The UAW and Germany’s largest autoworker union will join forces to address worker representation at the U.S. plants of German manufacturers.

The UAW and IG Metall will hold a joint press conference Thursday at UAW Local 1853 in Spring Hill, Tenn., the UAW announced today. UAW officials attending the press conference include UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel and Region 8 Director Ray Curry, Local 1853 President Tim Stannard told Automotive News.

Stannard said the unions would announce a new partnership called the Transatlantic Labor Institute. The effort will focus on broad auto worker representation issues at the U.S. plants of German manufacturers, which unlike in Germany are not widely unionized in the United States.

Stannard said that the announcement was not specifically related to UAW organizing efforts at Volkswagen’s assembly plant in Chattanooga.

“It’s related to the whole automotive industry,” Stannard said, declining to elaborate ahead of tomorrow’s press conference.

The Associated Press earlier Wednesday reported that the two unions will open a joint office in Tennessee for the effort. According to a statement obtained by the newswire, “IG Metall believes some German manufacturers are exploiting low-wage environments in the U.S. South, where working conditions -- including health and safety situations -- tend to be challenging for employees.”

The partnership’s formation comes amid Volkswagen’s emissions scandal and the UAW’s continuing effort to organize workers at VW’s Chattanooga plant, which most recently has honed in on skilled trades workers at the plant.

The UAW last month petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for an election by about 165 skilled trades workers at the plant. The NLRB today gave the election a green light, setting a representation vote for Dec. 3 and Dec. 4.

The UAW’s organizing drive in Chattanooga climaxed in February 2014 when workers at the plant voted 712-to-626 against the UAW.

But the effort has drawn the union closer to the powerful IG Metall trade union, whose former boss Berthold Huber was named interim chairman of VW AG’s supervisory board following the resignation of Ferdinand Piech last spring. Huber has been a vocal proponent of the UAW’s organizing drive at the VW’s Tennesee factory, urging workers in a 2013 letter to join the union, Reuters reported at the time.

UAW efforts to advance its standing among plant workers has continued since the failed election, advocating for a German-style works council model of employee representation at the plant, mirroring what VW has at the rest of its assembly plants worldwide.

You can reach Ryan Beene at autonews@crain.com

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