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American Council of Employees gets a place at the VW table

February 19th, 2015  |  Pamela Wolf

If you were wondering what the European labor model might look like transplanted to the United States, Volkswagen Group AG has been painting the picture at its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

On Monday, February 16, Volkswagen told employees at the plant that the American Council of Employees (ACE) had met the requirements under the company’s Community Organization Engagement (COE) policy for “Level 1” support, meaning that Ace members make up more than 15 percent of those on the current employee roster. Accordingly, the employee organization has earned the right to express its voice in the workplace through access to various employer groups. ACE is the apparent rival of the UAW, which in a high-profile battle a year ago lost its bid to organize the VW plant by a vote of 712-626. In the wake of the election loss, the UAW formed Local 42 with the goal of giving employees a voice in the workplace via the company’s German-style labor model.

VW labor model. The COE policy gives eligible organizations the opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue with Volkswagen and its employees. To be eligible for such activity, “an organization must exist for the primary purpose of representing employees and their interests to employers consistent with the National Labor Relations Act” and must also agree to comply with the policy. Volkswagen reserves its right under the policy to define and determine eligibility consistent with the NLRA.

However, as a Volkswagen spokesperson made clear to Employment Law Daily, the fact that any group has met the threshold requirements for engaging in dialogue with Volkswagen under the COE policy does not mean it is the exclusive bargaining representative of any group of employees for collective bargaining purposes.

So, to what opportunities for engagement is ACE now entitled? Consistent with Volkswagen’s Open Door and Solicitation policies, individual or groups of employees are already free to discuss and/or promote their interests /group in non-work areas during non-work time; wear promotional clothing in non-work areas during non-work time; display/use promotional items that comply with material specifications (i.e., no silicone); and raise questions, ideas, or concerns directly to Volkswagen management at any time.

Additional opportunities are available for groups that have completed the verification process and “represent a significant percentage of employees in the relevant employee group and whose members support the organization’s interaction with Volkswagen pursuant to this policy.” Ace has been verified for Level 1 support, which permits the organization in addition to reserve and utilize space in the Conference Center for internal employee meetings on non-work time once a month and post announcements and information in company-designated locations. Organization representatives who are VW employees may also meet monthly with company HR to present topics that are of general interest to their membership.

UAW won Level 3 privileges. In December 2014, UAW Local 42 submitted a sufficient number of cards that were independently verified to include enough employees to gain “Level 3” support, which means that more than 45 percent of current employees were members of the organization. That level of membership entitled Local 42 to:

  • Reserve and utilize space in the Conference Center for meetings on non-work time once per week
  • Invite external representatives of their organization for Conference Center meetings once per month
  • Post materials on a dedicated/branded posting board
  • Meet quarterly with a member of the Volkswagen Chattanooga Executive Committee (a Level 2 privilege that accelerates to bi-weekly with Level 3 support)
  • Reserve and utilize on-site locations for meetings on non-work time (with staff and/or employees) as reasonably needed
  • Meet bi-weekly with Company HR and monthly with the Volkswagen Chattanooga Executive Committee

According to some media reports, ACE is allegedly a group that may have been backed by business and political interests. However, ACE calls itself “an independent employee council created to ensure that all VW Chattanooga employees have a voice on the Volkswagen Global Works Council.” The organization also says that it is a local, not national, group that has no outside influence or political agenda.