* UAW "open" to concept of works council -VW labour leader
* Will meet with UAW backers, opponents "in next few weeks"
* Says works council important to securing more work atChattanooga
By Andreas Cremer
BERLIN, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Volkswagen's toplabour leader lent weight on Monday to efforts by U.S. union UAWto represent workers at the German company's U.S. plant, anissue that has raised hackles among some U.S. politicians andother critics of the UAW.
Volkswagen prefers German-style labour representation at theplant through a works council and has held talks with the UAWabout how the union can be involved in setting one up.
Currently the workers at VW's plant producing the Passat carin Chattanooga, Tennessee, are not represented by a union.
But the UAW is eager to boost its membership, which hasshrunk to about a quarter of the 1.5 million workers it had in1979, and get a toehold that could allow it to expand among allforeign-owned auto companies.
However, Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker has said itwould be a mistake for VW to allow the UAW to organise workersat its Tennessee plant. Last month, Corker called thatpossibility a "job-destroying idea" and said it would make theGerman automaker a "laughingstock in the business world."
Bernd Osterloh, head of VW's global works council, said in astatement that forming a council was important if the plantwanted to produce other VW cars and that he would keep talkingwith the UAW.
VW is considering the idea of building a seven-passengercrossover utility vehicle at the Chattanooga plant rather thanat its plant in Puebla, Mexico, where it already assembles theJetta compact car and the New Beetle, a U.S. executive of VWsaid last month.
"We know how important that (second) vehicle is forChattanooga," said Osterloh, who as deputy chairman of VW has asay on production decisions.
"In the interests of our U.S. colleagues, we're open to suchan allocation (of an order)." Osterloh, also a member of the IGMetall engineering union, said the UAW was prepared to cede someof its rights to a works council.
Osterloh said he wanted to involve Republicans and Democratsin negotiations about a works council plan once the legal issuesare clarified but said the VW principle of involving staff andmanagement in running plants, called co-determination, was notnegotiable.
He said he plans to meet politicians and other supportersand opponents of the UAW in the United States in the next fewweeks.
The UAW would like VW voluntarily to recognise the U.S.union as the best choice to represent workers in Tennessee.
The UAW says it has support of a majority of ChattanoogaVW's 1,567 blue-collar workers, and has collected signatures oncards authorizing that the union represent them.
However, an anti-UAW petition signed by 563 VW Chattanoogahourly employees was delivered last Friday to plant executives,said Mike Burton, the leader of the petition drive.
Burton said that most of the signatures on the anti-UAWpetition were gathered within two weeks. Burton, who works inthe plant's paint shop, said he and a few co-workers willcontinue to collect signed petitions with a goal of attaining amajority of the 1,567 hourly workers.
Some 88 of VW's 104 plants worldwide have works councils,but U.S. labour laws require any such council to be recognisedthrough a U.S. trade union. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam andSenator Corker are both opposed to the UAW.
A UAW success at Chattanooga could alter the industrialrelations landscape for foreign carmakers in the United States,opening the door to similar efforts at plants owned by Germany'sMercedes in Alabama and BMW in South Carolina, andpossibly those owned by Japanese and South Korean automakers,analysts have said.
Corker has come out against any UAW influence over carplants in the South because he blames the union in part for thedemise of Detroit as the heart of the U.S. industry.
- Labor Issues