So, What Is A Works Council, Anyway?

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.


Filed under Tennessee, unions

13 responses to “So, What Is A Works Council, Anyway?

  1. Mary Wilson

    And to make another point, VW and MOST German corporations not only allow union representation, around the world, they encourage it. And supporting union labor is part of the post-war revival of the German economy. They already provide excellent pay and benefits in all their operations. Haslam and Corker do NOT represent Tennessee workers and their families. I have fingers crossed that these workers will vote “YES” this week.

  2. Mark Rogers

    I believe the answer is that they are prohibited by US Labor Law on the grounds that they become, in effect, competitors to the larger unions. There is a term along the lines of ‘house union’ that applies.

    While I agree that the idea makes considerable sense, in the context of American labor history, one could see the national unions fearing that companies would co-opt the councils by granting better terms for certain plants than are available for other plants,

    Put simply, once the union represents VW, it is not clear that the German-style council would be allowed. That would leave Chattanooga with a traditional American-style union agreement and no council.

    Perhaps a reader who is familiar with labor law could clarify. But opposition to such councils in not the province of business alone. It weakens the power of national unions and no organization likes to lose power.

    • GregH

      Mark Rogers, it is ENTIRELY clear that the UAW will participate in the VW works council if the Chattanooga workers vote to unionize. That is the whole reason VW has been talking with the UAW. If the UAW were to renege on the tacit arrangement, it would create a completely toxic environment for any future negotiations with VW. I think the UAW leadership is smart enough to know that conventional/stereotypical confrontational tactics have not served them well over the past 20 years. If they are successful in unionizing VW in the face of huge outside pressure, they will be just happy to be there (and looking at how this might influence future organizing drives at other plants in the South).

      • Mark Rogers

        Roger, you misunderstand. I don’t oppose the idea of workers’ councils. I think they make great sense. And they allow for individual plants to adapt to local conditions instead of being tied to a national agreement.

        My question was about whether such councils are legal under American labor law. In all the coverage of the Chattanooga vote, the answers to that question have been all over the map. Consider this quote from the Bloomberg article linked to by the Post article:

        “But in the U.S., there is a catch — because the UAW wouldn’t control the works council, Volkswagen would have to first recognize the UAW as the exclusive representative and then enter an agreement in which the union partially gives up that right.

        That means the UAW would significantly give up its most precious right — that of being the “exclusive representative” of workers under Section 9 of the Wagner Act. Instead of the UAW bargaining over a range of in-plant issues, a works council elected by all employees — white collar and blue collar — would help run the plant.”


        “No U.S. union has proposed a system with so much worker control, or corporate democracy, while giving up its claim to be the “exclusive representative.””

        In other words, American unions are not particularly big fans of the German approach because it results in weakening the national unions’ power.


        Again,your ideology is unhindered by facts. The issue was far more complex than you thought.

  3. I guess Republicans have no problem ditching their core principles when said principles become inconvenient.

    They aren’t ditching their core principles; they’re just revealing their true colors. It turns out that their core principle is “screw the workers” not “benefit companies”.

  4. Joseph Stans

    I’m breathless with anticipation over the election at the VW plant. It’s like that date in HS whre you finally got Becky in the backseat of the Chevy. Be still my heart.

  5. Would it be accurate to counter the “Chattanooga will become Detroit” argument with the fact Germany has the strongest economy in the EU?

  6. Mack

    Not to mention, it’s got a Lakoff-ian friendly name….

  7. “That would leave Chattanooga with a traditional American-style union agreement and no council. ”

    A “traditional American-style union” is what, an unmitigated evil of socialism? You give yourself away, EVERY FUCKING TIME that you post.;

    • GregH

      That WILL NOT happen. It’s just a conservative-created boogie man. Just like Corker claiming (in contradiction of every VW spokesperson) that he has secret knowledge that the Chattanooga plant will get the expansion for the new SUV *IF* the workers vote down the union. What a lying jackass!