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from Bloomberg Businessweek,

VW and the UAW are odd bedfellows at a Southern U.S. plant.

A year ago in Chattanooga, the United Auto Workers suffered a surprise setback. A vote at Volkswagen, the union’s high-stakes stab at securing a rare foothold among foreign automakers in the South, ended in embarrassing defeat. Yet in January, VW and the UAW started holding thrice-monthly sit-downs anyway. Some labor leaders hope it will soon blossom into an unusual “minority union” arrangement, where a union represents and negotiates contracts for those employees who sign up, whether or not it has majority support.

“It’s uncharted territory,” says former National Labor Relations Board Chair Wilma Liebman, who since has done some legal work for the UAW. “I certainly think it has promise. Where it all ends up, I guess, remains to be seen.”

The meetings with the UAW, part of a “Community Organization Engagement” policy rolled out by VW Chattanooga in late 2014, kicked off in January after VW certified that the UAW represents at least 45 percent of its hourly employees. (Groups certified to represent 15 percent or 30 percent of workers get regular meetings under the policy too, but less often.) They offer a forum for the UAW to raise workplace issues, ranging from who works the graveyard shift to how much work the company gives lower-paid temps.

“It might not get everything we want accomplished,” says VW team leader Dave Gleeson, a member of the UAW’s elected bargaining committee. “But it’s better than we used to have, where we’d tell our supervisor, maybe our HR rep, and it ends up in the circular file.”

For a U.S. auto plant, the setup is highly unusual—but so is Volkswagen, which was created in 1937 by the German government.

At most VW plants worldwide, union contracts govern pay and benefits. Local “works councils”—elected bodies representing both blue-collar workers and management—also review company financial information and shape policies on staffing and scheduling.

Both VW and the UAW have endorsed bringing the works council model to the U.S.—one of the only countries, along with China and Russia, whose VW plants lack one. A federal law banning “company-dominated” unions prevented a works council as long as the VW plant was nonunion, but some legal experts believe even a “minority” union may remove that obstacle.

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