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labor VW to Allow Labor Groups to Represent Workers At Chattanooga Plant

New Volkswagen policy likely to allow labor groups, including the United Automobile Workers, to represent workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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Volkswagen announced a new policy on Wednesday that was likely to allow several labor groups, including the United Automobile Workers, to represent employees at the company’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant.

The U.A.W. applauded the move because it would mean partial recognition of the union and regular discussions between management and the U.A.W., and perhaps other labor groups as well. For years, the union has been straining to get a foothold in any of the foreign-owned auto plants in the South.

But VW’s new policy stops short of the U.A.W.’s ultimate goal of being the exclusive union and bargaining agent for the plant’s workers.

Volkswagen has been under intense pressure from its powerful labor union in Germany, IG Metall, to grant recognition to the U.A.W. in Chattanooga. The union’s push for recognition was hurt when the plant’s workers voted 712-626 in February against U.A.W. representation.

Under VW’s new policy, employee groups will be able to use company space for meetings, post information and announcements, and have regular meetings with representatives of Volkswagen’s management. Groups that have the support of more than 15 percent of members can meet monthly with VW’s human resource officials, while those with more than 45 percent support can meet once every two weeks with Volkswagen Chattanooga’s executive committee.

“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.”

A group of employees that opposes U.A.W. representation, the American Council of Employees, has also said that it hopes to represent VW workers in Chattanooga.

Gary Casteel, the U.A.W.’s secretary-treasurer, said in a statement that the union appreciated VW’s new policy and that a majority of the plant’s workers had signed up as members of the U.A.W. He said he expected VW to make good on what he said was a commitment to recognize the U.A.W. as the representative of its members.

He stopped short of saying the U.A.W. would seek to be the exclusive bargaining agent for all the plant’s employees.

Saying that the Chattanooga plant is VW’s only facility worldwide without a works council — a group of managers and workers who formulate policy — Mr. Casteel said, “Volkswagen’s employees in Tennessee now can join their fellow team members from around the world in securing a voice in the workplace.”

Maury Nicely, a lawyer who represents the American Council of Employees that is opposed to the U.A.W., called VW’s new policy a positive development.

“It’s VW saying we want to talk to all groups,” he said.

Daniel Cornfield, a labor expert at Vanderbilt University, called VW’s policy innovative, saying that granting unions more frequent meetings with management as they hit the 15 percent, 30 percent and 45 percent thresholds would create a competition in which various labor groups pushed to mobilize and attract members.

Volkswagen’s new policy says it may not be used “by any group or organization to claim or request recognition as the exclusive representative of any group of employees for the purposes of collective bargaining.” The policy adds that any group requesting to be exclusive bargaining agent must comply with the requirements of federal labor law.

Ryan Rose, VW’s general manager for human resource operations, said, “Of course, any employee can approach Volkswagen at any time with an idea or a concern. But we wanted to extend these additional opportunities to groups of employees who want to talk with Volkswagen about issues of common interest.”