Chamber president says United Auto Workers Union will hurt local economy

Authored By chloe.morrison

Soon after a United Auto Workers leader said that a majority of Volkswagen employees signed cards in support of union representation, the top Chattanooga chamber official called for a secret vote on the issue. 

“One of the principles of our country is that in important matters people have the privacy of a secret ballot to vote their conscience,” Ron Harr, president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said in a prepared statement. 

On Wednesday, a top official with the UAW told The Associated Press that a majority of Volkswagen workers at the local plant signed cards in support of union representation that would help establish a German-style works council. 

Gary Casteel, regional director for the UAW, said that workers signed cards that include a statement about wanting to join Volkswagen’s Global Works Council and in support of a cooperative and collaborative relationship with the company, according to The Associated Press. 

Casteel also told The Associated Press that the cards are legally binding as an election by the employees. 

A Volkswagen spokesman declined to confirm Wednesday whether the majority of workers signed cards. 

Former Chattanooga mayor and current U.S. Sen. Bob Corker called the possibility of union organization at Volkswagen “incomprehensible” and said the city would become a “laughingstock” if leaders make a deal for UAW representation. 

And Harr said that if the UAW organizes the Volkswagen plant, it will hurt the community’s chances of attracting new companies and creating jobs in the area. 

“We’re working to recruit a number of auto suppliers that tell us they won’t locate within 100 miles of the UAW,” he said. “We would hate to see the incredible success story Volkswagen and its local employees have built in partnership with Chattanooga move in the wrong direction.” 

Harr said chamber leaders don’t understand what value the UAW offers Volkswagen workers and that the company already pays well and has good working conditions. 

Volkswagen production employee pay starts at $15 an hour and moves to $16 in six months. The pay increases up to $21 per hour after five years, according to Nooga.com archives

Employees are earning $20 at the three-year mark now. 

Local Volkswagen leaders have also repeated that the decision is for the employees to make.

Casteel recently wrote an opinion piece published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, in which he said the organizing efforts for a German-style union were underway but that some people haven’t “taken the time to learn the facts relating to the VW system, culture and philosophy” and “want to make this an ideological confrontation.”

In May, a brochure circulated at Volkswagen, and in it, some employees voiced the need for organizing.

And leaders of the German union IG Metall encouraged workers to join a union.

“The best way for us to solve problems in our company and contribute to its success is to have a true voice in the company, and the only way to accomplish this is through forming a strong union in our plant,” Eric DeLacy, who works in the VW paint department, wrote in the brochure, according to archives.

But Harr said that other companies have found ways for their employees to have a voice without requiring them to pay union dues.

“If the vote goes against the UAW, we look forward to working with Volkswagen and its employees in establishing a new and modern solution for having a works council that doesn’t involve a third party,” he also said. 

Harr also noted a strike in Lebanon, Tenn., which is about 135 miles from Chattanooga, that ended Wednesday, according to The Tennessean

He used it as evidence that the UAW doesn’t want a more cooperative model.