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Tennessee VW workers say company coercing them to join UAW

The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga ,Tennessee, is shown December 1, 2011. REUTERS/Billy Weeks
The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga ,Tennessee, is shown December 1, 2011. REUTERS/Billy Weeks

DETROIT (Reuters) - Four workers from the Volkswagen AG plant in Tennessee filed charges on Wednesday with U.S. labor officials alleging that German VW officials are coercing them to agree to United Auto Workers representation.

The four workers, assisted by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, charged that the officials said the plant in Chattanooga would not get additional vehicle production and future jobs unless a German-style form of representation was installed at the plant.

Adopting the German-style representation, called a works council, would "force workers to accept the representation of UAW union officials," the anti-union group said in a statement.

The complaint was filed with the National Labor Relations Board's regional office in Atlanta.

Volkswagen has said it is in talks with UAW officials about establishing a works council at Chattanooga. VW has a works council at all of its other fully-owned plants around the world.

U.S. labor law requires that any such council be recognized through a U.S. trade union, or else be considered a company union, which is illegal.

The UAW says it has majority support of the Chattanooga workers to represent them, while workers supported by the right- to-work organization seek an anti-UAW petition signed by a majority of workers at the plant.

The four workers, according to the group, say that pairing additional production and jobs at the plant to accepting the UAW "interferes with Chattanooga facility employees' rights to choose whether or not to engage in self-organization to form, join, or assist labor organizations."

Last week, Bernd Osterloh, head of VW's global works council, said he will continue to work with the UAW on forming a works council, in which both blue- and white-collar workers at the 2-year-old VW plant would participate.

Osterloh also said that forming a council was important if the plant wanted a second model in the future, in addition to the Passat sedan currently built there.

"We know how important that vehicle is for Chattanooga," Osterloh, who as deputy VW chairman has a say on production decisions, said in a statement last week.

"It would be good if the Chattanooga factory already had a works council," Osterloh said, "because what's also at stake at the moment is another model for our U.S. factory."

Volkswagen is considering whether to place production of a seven-passenger crossover vehicle either at a plant it owns in Mexico or in Chattanooga.

A VW spokesman declined to comment.

The UAW did not offer immediate comment when reached on Wednesday.

In the past, the UAW has often said that when it tries to organize a foreign-owned auto plant or supplier in the U.S. South, the company or right-to-work organizations tell workers that allowing a union to represent them would lead to shutting the plant.

"With reports that Volkswagen is considering Chattanooga to build its new SUV, this is no idle threat," said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation. "If VW management was discouraging workers from joining the UAW with threats, there's little question that an NLRB prosecution would have already begun at the UAW's behest," he said.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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