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Latest News - July 2011

July 5, 2011
UAW hopes VW will be South's first union transplant
Source: USA Today

The United Auto Workers union, which has failed for decades to unionize a single foreign transplant factory in the South, thinks it may have a shot with Volkswagen's new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. The 1,900-worker factory has started preproduction of 2012 Passats, due on sale in September.

Why would it turn out differently this time? UAW southern region director Gary Casteel told the Associated Press that VW has a tradition of union workers globally, so VW management and workers are "more willing to talk to unions about representation."

Casteel told the AP that the UAW has had VW workers approach it and that there have been discussions with VW execs. "We have dialogue with them," he says, adding that no official organizing drive has begun.

"Any decision on representation belongs to our employees alone," said a VW statement from spokesman Guenther Scherelis. "One of Volkswagen's core values is the basic right of employees to have a voice in the company."

Another hopeful sign, says Casteel, is that unlike Asian makers and some Europeans, VW accepts applicants who've had union jobs. "We do not consider or track past union affiliation at all in our selection process," said VW's statement.

VW also formerly had a unionized plant in the U.S. -- in Pennsylvania -- which closed in 1988.

While the UAW represents workers at unionized U.S. makers' plants in the South as elsewhere, Casteel said the union has never been able to organize a non-union auto assembly plant in the South:

The union has repeatedly lost votes by employees at Nissan, the first Japanese automaker in the South in 1983.

It tried several months ago to get an organizing effort going at the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Ala., but says workers showed little interest. "The problem is there is so much intimidation and fear out there," said Casteel, who says workers at some auto plants are paid as little as $12 an hour.

Mike Goss, a Toyota spokesman in Erlanger, Ky., said Toyota has been on the UAW's "radar screen for 25 years. We know we are on their radar screen. We are not seeing any unusual activity, and as always it is up to our team members whether or not they need representation."

Said Casteel, "It doesn't have to be a fight. It can be the workers engaged in the success of the company. That is the relationship we are working for."

But Mike Randle, editor and publisher of Southern Business & Development, a publication based in Birmingham, Ala., told the AP that autoworkers no longer need union representation. He said auto assembly plant workers typically start at $15 an hour.

"What's the point? Organizing is a '50s, '60s and '70s model," Randle said. "It's outdated. They (autoworkers) are already being paid higher than anybody else.

"We've got folks who do not have a college degree and making $50,000 to $75,000 a year working in an auto plant," he said. "What do you need a union for?"



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