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Volkswagen Trips Over Tennessee's Touchy Union Politics

The Germans from Volkswagen are finding a cultural clash in the American South. The company’s desire to install a “works council,” an advisory group that’s part of the operations at nearly all of its assembly plants outside of China, has run into a hornet’s nest of local labor politics in Chattanooga over the involvement of the United Auto Workers.

The union has been seeking to organize workers at the VW plant, which employs 2,500 people to turn out Passat sedans, as well as other foreign automakers with operations in the region. It remains unclear, under U.S. law, whether the company would need to accommodate some type of union organization to form a “works council,” but executives from the automaker seem inclined to that view. In Germany, where VW’s plants are unionized, the councils collaborate with executives on workplace issues and implement the decisions of a 20-member supervisory board, half of whose members are labor representatives.