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VW labor leader seeks German-like workers council in Tennessee

By Andreas Cremer

WOLFSBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG's top labor leader still wants workers at the company's plant in Tennessee to have German-style representation, an arrangement that would require the involvement of a U.S. trade union such as the United Auto Workers.

Bernd Osterloh, head of VW's global works council, told Reuters on Tuesday that he plans to visit workers at the plant to offer "clarification" on how a works council operates at the company.

Osterloh also said he expects to meet with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and U.S. Senator Bob Corker, who played a key role in bringing Volkswagen to Chattanooga, a city where he was once mayor. Haslam and Corker have voiced opposition to representation of VW's Chattanooga workers by the UAW, saying it would damage the state's ability to attract companies.

No date for a trip to Tennessee has been set, Osterloh said. A works council, in which both blue-collar and white-collar workers are represented, is an essential part of VW's corporate model, he said.

In Germany, a works council represents workers on work rules in the plants and some other dealings with the company, but wages and benefits are negotiated by the IG Metall union, of which Osterloh is a member.

"We started out with the goal to implement a works council at every (VW production) site in the world," Osterloh said, adding that anything beyond that depends on talks among the parties. "We will now have to see how things work out."

Earlier this month, Osterloh lent weight to UAW efforts to represent VW Chattanooga workers by saying the company wants Chattanooga to join the rest of the company's major plants around the world in having a works council.

UAW AND VOLKSWAGEN

Osterloh did not mention the UAW in his conversation with Reuters, on the sidelines of an event at the company's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, after that country won a decisive victory over the European Commission to preserve state influence at Volkswagen.

The EU Court ruling also protects labor's role in corporate decision-making at Volkswagen. That role allows leaders such as Osterloh to have more influence in decisions affecting operations such as the two-year-old assembly plant in Chattanooga.

Volkswagen last month said it was in talks with the UAW about working with the company to establish a German-style work's council at Chattanooga, which would be a first for the U.S. union.

U.S. labor law says that any labor representation model that does not include a U.S. labor union would be considered a company union and therefore prohibited.

The UAW, which has lost membership in the past three decades to automation and a cutback of jobs at General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Group LLC, wants to organize Volkswagen workers to gain a toehold in the U.S. South, where most foreign automakers have nonunion factories.

The UAW wants Volkswagen to recognize the union as the representative of workers at Chattanooga, based on cards endorsing the union signed by more than half of the plant's 1,570 workers.

However, a source with knowledge of the thinking of the company's top executive board said this month that the board will ultimately insist on a formal vote by workers at the plant on how they are to be represented.

Meanwhile, anti-UAW workers in the plant are circulating a petition seeking to show the UAW's claim of majority support is incorrect. As of last week, more than 600 workers had signed it, according to the worker heading the petition drive.

In addition, four plant workers filed charges this month with U.S. labor officials alleging German VW officials are coercing them to agree to UAW representation.

(Writing by Bernie Woodall in Detriot; Editing byn Steve Orlofsky)

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