German companies in US warned against violating employment rights

The new leader of the giant German union IG Metall, Detlef Wetzel, has warned German companies operating in the US against violating employment rights and opposing the right of workers to form unions.

The new leader of the giant German union IG Metall, Detlef Wetzel, has warned German companies operating in the US against violating employment rights and opposing the right of workers to form unions.

Wetzel, who is to succeed Berthold Huber, the current president of the union, said companies such as Volkswagen and ThyssenKrupp should operate in co-operation with unions as they do in their home country.

This follows anti-union activity at VW, TK and Siemens in the USA, which has drawn criticism from unions in Europe who work closely German companies and has created an alliance between the US autoworkers union and IG Metall.

Wetzel said:

“Low wages and union-free areas – that’s not a business model that the IG Metall would support. If companies – from VW to ThyssenKrupp – entered these (southern U.S.) states in order to be free of unions, meaning to not acknowledge a fundamental pillar of any democracy, then we’re North Korea. That cannot be accepted.”

IG Metall officials have supported efforts by the United Auto Workers union to represent the hourly workers at VW’s plant in Chattanooga, where it builds the Passat sedan. IG Metall represents VW’s workers in its home country.

The UAW has proposed to VW to set up a German-style ‘works council’ (as provided for under German labour law) at the Tennessee plant. Volkswagen said that it was in talks with the UAW about establishing such a works council at the Chattanooga plant, which would be a first for the U.S. union.

However, Tennessee politicians including governor Bill Haslam and Tennessee senator Bob Corker, the former mayor of Chattanooga, are opposed to the UAW’s organising at the VW plant and are actively encouraging VW to oppose unionisation.

The UAW wants Volkswagen to recognise the union at Chattanooga based on a ‘card check’ of workers endorsing the union, signed by more than half of the plant’s 1,570 workers.

In 2012 the giant Siemen’s engineering company, which negotiates with unions across the EU, faced a campaign from European unions – including Unite in the UK – when the company embarked on an anti-union campaign against the United Steelworkers who were organising a Siemens facility in Maryland, USA that broke the USWs campaign through classic anti-union activity such as threats to the workforce about the future of the facility.

The United Autoworkers (who will also be appointing a new president soon to replace Bob King) are also engaged in a bitter organizing campaign with Nissan in Canton, Mississippi, where the company are refusing to recognise the UAW for bargaining rights.

Nissan has faced union condemnation globally for its anti-union stance in the USA – with unions pointing out that in Europe it recognizes and works with unions and has a European Works Council set up under EU legislation.

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