By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT (Reuters) - The United Auto Workers union and two top German labor groups have signed a letter of intent to jointly organize the Volkswagen AG assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a top UAW official said on Monday.
The "UAW goal (is) to obtain exclusive majority status and recognition of this by Volkswagen," according to the four-page letter dated Sept. 9, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters. Workers at the Tennessee plant, Volkswagen's only U.S. plant, voted against UAW representation earlier this year.
The two other labor groups are IG Metall, the powerful union that represents VW workers in Germany, and the Volkswagen global works council, which has blue- and white-collar members from the automaker's plants worldwide.
The letter received its final signature on Friday. It has been circulating since Sept. 9, the day before the global works council announced the renewed efforts to back the UAW at Chattanooga.
The letter was signed by UAW President Dennis Williams; UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel; Bernd Osterloh, the chairman of the VW global works council; Frank Patta, its general secretary, and Detlef Wetzel, the head of IG Metall.
The UAW lost a vote to represent about 1,500 workers at the Chattanooga plant early this year, an effort that was opposed by a group called the National Right to Work.
National Right to Work Vice President Patrick Semmens blasted the latest letter as a "backroom deal" that aims to negate the worker vote.
"This document is a just a lot of doubletalk to paper over the fact that Detroit-based UAW officials are colluding with a German union and works council members to force VW Chattanooga team members under union control without a secret ballot vote," said Semmens in an emailed statement.
The Chattanooga plant is VW's only major factory without representation on the global works council.
While the UAW wants to represent the plant's blue-collar workers, VW's top labor officials want to bring the Chattanooga plant into its global works council. But such a council cannot exist unless workers are also represented by a U.S. union, most labor experts say.
The letter said the three parties would work on a joint communications plan.
The union in July formed UAW Local 42 for the plant's workers, which will hold elections of officers soon.
The agreement essentially reached on Sept. 9 and signed as a letter of intent on Sept. 26 is in part an answer to an attempt to form an anti-UAW union among VW Chattanooga workers, which in turn was created to counter the formation of Local 42.
News of the signed letter of intent was reported Sunday in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
On Monday, Casteel told Reuters the UAW has signed support from more than half of the 1,500 current Chattanooga hourly paid workers. But he would not say specifically how many have signed cards saying they support the UAW.
He also said that Local 42 officers will do most of the groundwork to get an exclusive bargaining unit, and that the process would be incremental.
The plant plans to add up to 2,000 hourly workers in 2016.
(Additional reporting by Andreas Cremer in Berlin; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and David Gregorio)