One thing which has been lost amid all of the conversation about the pending UAW vote at the VW plant in Chattanooga is that VW would implement a “works council” concept at the plant. The UAW would negotiate benefits and wages but the Works Council would negotiate specific workplace rules and job training.
So, what is a Works Council, anyway? This is something which is a big part of the German business culture. They are very common in Europe, but it’s an entirely new idea in the U.S. From the WaPo:
While the details of the arrangement would be ironed out after the election, works councils — which are elected by all workers in a factory, both blue and white collar, whether or not they belong to the union — usually help decide things like staffing schedules and working conditions, while the union bargains on wages and benefits. They have the right to review certain types of information about how the company is doing financially, which often means that they’re more sympathetic towards management’s desire to make cutbacks when times are tough. During the recession, for example, German works councils helped the company reduce hours across the board rather than laying people off, containing unemployment until the economy recovered.
This is an entirely new concept, and I think it will be very interesting to watch what happens. All of those scary billboards cropping up around Chattanooga saying a yes to the union vote will turn Chattanooga into Detroit seem pretty silly when one learns what exactly workers are voting for.
I find this interesting:
Works councils are also typically not allowed to call strikes, but they also don’t usually need to, because their authority is baked into their agreements with the company (and, in Europe, usually enforced by law). If the UAW wants to strike over wages and benefits, it’s still able to do so, but the likelihood of arriving at a mutually agreeable solution without one is much higher.
That’s why VW wants its plant to go union. According to VW’s global works council leader, Bernard Osterloh, the company even sees its culture of worker codetermination as a “competitive advantage.”
That politicians like Bob Corker, Gov. Haslam and the rest of the Tennessee Republican’ts would presume to tell VW not to do something it sees as giving itself a “competitive advantage” seems outrageous to me. I guess Republicans have no problem ditching their core principles when said principles become inconvenient.
Could American manufacturing see more Works Councils? I don’t see why not, especially if they work for both the company and its workers.