New human resources leader at Volkswagen talks production, unions

Authored By chloe.morrison

About two months into his new position, Sebastian Patta, Volkswagen of Chattanooga’s vice president of human resources, is adjusting to the role and the city, and he is looking toward his goals.

His No. 1 goal is to protect current jobs at Volkswagen, he said.

He also wants to hire members of the variable workforce as official Volkswagen employees and ultimately continue to increase the number of workers at the local plant.

There are currently 2,400 Volkswagen employees and 800 members of the variable workforce who are Aerotek employees. 

“It’s important to hire more people, but we can’t hire people without another product,” he said.

Although Patta said he doesn’t have any information about whether or when another product might happen for Chattanooga, the company needs another product here in order to move toward its 2018 goal of being the world’s largest manufacturer, Patta said.

Volkswagen leaders have said that the United States market is an important piece of that plan, and Chattanooga’s plant likely has a significant role in meeting those goals.

And although leaders haven’t confirmed any new local manufacturing plans, some industry insiders said that Chattanooga’s plant will eventually have to produce more than the Passat to get maximum profitability.

“I think it’s inevitable that more product is coming to Chattanooga-it’s all but inevitable,” Bill Visnic, Edmunds.com senior analyst, said. “My money is on the SUV.”

In January, Volkswagen leaders unveiled the concept for a midsized, hybrid SUV, called CrossBlue, designed specifically for the North American market at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Leaders haven’t said where the vehicle may be produced, but Chattanooga leaders attended the Detroit auto show to let VW officials know that they want it to be made in the Scenic City.

“In a lot of ways, I think the design of the CrossBlue picked up on the Passat [with] a lot of similarity in design, at least to my eye,” Visnic said. “The other thing is-while it’s not a new product, I think you will see a variance of the Passat [possibly made in Chattanooga].”

Cultural differences for Patta
Patta took over for Hans Herbert Jagla, who is now human resources director of Volkswagen Group Retail Deutschland.

The former leader of personnel at the Braunschweig plant in Germany, where he worked with about 8,000 employees, is also fulfilling a dream by working in the United States for a company he considers very stable and reputable, he said.

He has a background in economics and marketing and also worked with an insurance company, but the auto industry seems to be the family business.

Patta’s German-Italian father also worked for the company, and his brother, Frank Patta, is a member of the Volkswagen Work Council in Germany.

A work council is similar to a union in the United States because its members help represent workers’ interests.

But in Germany, the representation is from within the company, not a third-party organization.

And there are cultural differences between organized labor in the United States and Germany.

And learning about those differences is important for Patta, he said.

“We grow up with the union-it’s normal daily business to work with the union and work council,” Patta said. “We find solutions with the union. We have good discussions … we have hard discussions. In Germany, this is the culture, and everybody accepts it.

“I think I must learn what the conditions of the union here and also what is the law,” he said.

Talks of unionizing Volkswagen come and go in Chattanooga.

And, historically, it has been more difficult to unionize in the South, which is why some auto plants have been coming to Southern states.

Ultimately, Chattanooga workers decide if they want to join a union, Patta said. 

Updated @ 9:56 a.m. on 3/4/13 to add more information for clarity.
Updated @ 2:05 p.m. on 8/28/13 to correct a factual error.