During an interview at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Volkswagen Group of America’s president and CEO, Jonathan Browning, revealed the company’s plans to introduce a German-style works council at their Chattanooga, Tennessee plant after being approached by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union earlier this year. It is now up to the employees of the Tennessee plant to decide whether or not they want to adopt the European system and if the UAW will have a part in it.
The German-style works council has some similarities to the typical workers unions found in the Unites States, but follows a specific model: general labor agreements are decided on by a national union and a national employer association, and then the local firms meet with the works councils to make modifications to the national agreements to better suit the local circumstances.
One of the main ideas of the German system is that the work council encourages more communication and discussions between the employees and their employers. A system like that may work for companies operating in Germany, but there is some opposition on whether or not it is even necessary based on the current labor laws in the U.S.
Having lost 11.3 percent of its membership last year, resulting in a 76 year low, the UAW is looking to foreign automakers operating in the U.S. to turn the numbers around. Back in September, Daimler was also approached by the union looking to adopt the German-style works council but was turned away.
Andreas Renschler, production chief for the Daimler’s Mercedes brand, told journalists that workers “are happy because they have direct access to management.” The works council that the UAW is pushing is seen as taking away that structure of communication.
Nevertheless, Jonathan Browning thinks it is a route that Volkswagen AG workers should vote for. “Our strong desire is to have a works council present in Chattanooga… The challenge in a U.S. context is how to bring that into being. That’s obviously the point of discussion in terms of how you actually move forward.”
There are still a lot of small details that need to be addressed before anything is voted on, and Browning has stated that some debate is needed and they are looking for constructive feedback. It will be up to the workers to decide on the direction, but that vote is not expected to happen anytime soon.