We’re about to find out how much power a UAW local in Chattanooga can wield at the Volkswagen of America assembly plant there.
In a phone interview Monday evening, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said an independent accounting firm as early as this week is expected to verify that a majority of the nearly 1,500 workers at the plant have joined UAW Local 42.
Once VW recognizes the results, Casteel said, the UAW will enjoy at least monthly access to company management to “talk about everything” from uniform styles to pay structure.
The latter item caused my ears to perk up.
Remember, the UAW narrowly lost an election sanctioned by the National Labor Relations Board earlier this year to represent VW Chattanooga hourly workers in collective bargaining.
And though VW Chattanooga recently established a framework to dialogue with organized employee groups, including UAW Local 42, the plant’s so-called Community Organization Engagement policy expressly prohibits collective bargaining by recognized groups on behalf of workers.
So how is discussing “pay structure” with management different from bargaining or negotiating on behalf of members?
Casteel answered that VW can volunteer to negotiate with the local on any number of items without the force of an organizing election or card check. That’s a regulatory-sanctioned process as well, whereby a company recognizes a union after it collects cards from a majority of workers acceding to union representation.
“There’s no limit what we can talk about,” Casteel said of VW and its Chattanooga workplace.
VW Chattanooga spokesman Scott Wilson said the plant’s new policy doesn’t specify what can be discussed when representatives meet with management, except that collective bargaining is out. He said the company wasn’t sure when the accounting firm will verify how many VW workers have joined the UAW local.
Only time will tell whether VW allows wage discussions under the new policy. But Casteel and the UAW are clearly betting that the forum permits an airing on pay.
Casteel said the UAW is eschewing a union election or card check at the Mercedes assembly plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for a similar local union at Mercedes. It’s going that route, he said, because a local union offers workers a real voice in employee affairs without any rancor from an election or card check.