Union membership has been in a steady decline for decades, reaching, according to a N.Y. Times article, a 97-year low. While much of the perception and general opinion for the sharp decline in 2012 (from 11.8% to 11.3% of the workforce according to the recent Bureau of Labor Statistics release) was due to the limitations placed on public sector unionization and unions in Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan, the automotive industry has contributed steadily to the union workforce reduction. All that may, however, be about to change, as Volkswagon and the United Auto Workers are said to be engaged in discussions wherein the union is bidding to represent automotive workers at VW’s Chattanooga, TN plant. And, VW management at the plant appears to be supportive.
According to a letter from Frank Fischer, chief operating officer and manager of the Tennessee plant, “. . . Volkswagon has started a dialogue with the UAW in order to check the possibility of implementing an innovative model of employee representation for all employees.” The “innovative model” referenced is supposedly based on VW’s German-style works council approach, used in VW’s German factories with union IG Metall, which represents VW’s workers in Germany. According to the UAW’s regional director in the Southeast, Gary Casteel, the German-style works council approach has never been tried in the United States.
Should the VW-UAW experiment work, UAW may be re-establishing its importance in the automotive industry by gaining a foothold in foreign car manufacturer plants in the U.S., facilities which have remained union-free for the most part.