The United Auto Workers union could soon get a big boost in its efforts to represent hourly workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga assembly plant, according to a report.
Horst Neumann, VW's board member in charge of human resources, told reporters that the automaker is in talks with the UAW about setting up a German-style labor board at the Tennessee plant, said Fox News. It was an about-face for a company that has resisted opening the U.S. plant to the UAW.
UAW President Bob King, who has said organizing U.S. plants run by foreign automakers is crucial for the union's survival, welcomed Neumann's comments and the German system where labor has a say in how companies are run.
King described them as "completely consistent with the UAW's 21st century model of unionism" that centers on a less adversarial relationship with companies.
Neumann said the company may release a plan for a works council labor board in May or June and formal talks with a union could begin as soon as the second half of the year if VW's managing board approves, according to Automotive News and the Detroit News. A VW spokesman confirmed the comments, adding Neumann also said the UAW is not the only option.
If the UAW gains a foothold in VW's Tennessee plant, which opened in 2011 and builds the Passat sedan, it could be a transformative moment, potentially opening the door to representing workers at Mercedes and BMW's U.S. plants.
"This truly represents a breakthrough if it takes place," said Harley Shaiken, a University of California-Berkeley labor studies professor, adding that such an agreement could spread to Japanese and South Korean-owned U.S. plants.
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