By Bernie Woodall and Andreas Cremer
DETROIT/BERLIN (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG's most influential labor leader will meet with workers at the German automaker's plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of the United Auto Workers union representing them, several sources said.
Bernd Osterloh, head of the automaker's global works council, will participate in a dialogue about the possible establishment of a German-styled works council at the plant, said the sources, who asked not to be identified.
Volkswagen has said it is in talks with the United Auto Workers union to establish a works council at the plant. U.S. labor law requires that any such works council, which is made up of both employees and management, be recognized through a U.S. trade union.
Should the UAW prove successful in its effort to represent the VW workers, it would be a toehold in organizing foreign-owned automakers in the South.
The sources said that there was no mention of the UAW being a part of the meeting with workers, but Volkswagen and IG Metall representatives will attend.
UAW spokeswoman Michele Martin said the union "is having ongoing dialogue with officials from VW and the VW works council and it would not be appropriate for us to comment on when and where these discussions take place."
One of the sources said that Horst Neumann, head of VW human resources and a member of the carmaker's board of management, would be in Chattanooga. However, two other sources could not confirm this.
The UAW has said that a majority of the 1,567 production and maintenance employees at the Chattanooga plant have signed authorization cards endorsing the union to represent them in what the UAW calls an innovative model that includes a German-styled works council.
The councils include both laborers and executives who cooperate on many issues, but they generally do not negotiate wages or benefits.
Gary Casteel, regional director for the UAW in the Southeast, said this week that the union is continuing to add to its majority with more signed authorization cards.
Meanwhile, Mike Burton, a paint shop worker at the plant, said that he and some colleagues had gathered signatures on an anti-UAW petition from more than 30 percent of the plant's workforce. Burton said that most of the signatures on the anti-UAW petition were gathered in only a few days beginning last week.
Burton, in a telephone interview on Monday, said he hopes to get "50 percent plus one" of the workforce to sign the anti-UAW petition by this coming Thursday.
"Then, we can tell Volkswagen it took us two weeks to get the signatures and not two years that the UAW has taken to pretend that it has them," he said.
U.S. labor law says that a company can recognize a union without a formal election to represent workers at a site if "50 percent plus one" of employees to be represented by the union sign cards endorsing such representation.
The anti-UAW petition is on the website no2uaw.com, which is run by Burton.
The petition says that any employee who signed a card supporting the UAW "hereby revokes that card."
It also says in the event Volkswagen recognizes the UAW, the signatures should be considered a petition to the U.S. National Labor Relations Board for a "decertification" vote.
"All we want to do is tell Volkswagen that what the UAW is telling them about having a majority is not true," said Burton.
Casteel, in a telephone interview on Tuesday morning, said the union had a "solid majority" and that he thought the petition drive would not have "any bearing on the discussions we are having with Volkswagen."
Burton was one of eight VW Chattanooga workers who filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board last week claiming that the UAW is misleading workers into signing authorizations cards. The UAW has denied the charges.
On a conference call with reporters regarding September U.S. auto sales, a company spokesman said Volkswagen of America affirmed comments made September 4 by the company's U.S. chief executive, Jonathan Browning.
He said at the time that VW wanted to give its plant workers a voice, but no decision had been made and the workers would decide whether the UAW or any other union represented them through a formal vote.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit and Andreas Cremer in Berlin; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Leslie Gevirtz)