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Volkswagen in no hurry to recognize U.S. union

Volkswagen employees work on the assembly line of the 2012 VW Passat in Chattanooga Tennessee, December 1, 2011. REUTERS/Billy Weeks
Volkswagen employees work on the assembly line of the 2012 VW Passat in Chattanooga Tennessee, December 1, 2011. REUTERS/Billy Weeks

By Andreas Cremer

BERLIN (Reuters) - Volkswagen will not grant immediate union recognition to its U.S. workers and may take months to reach agreement on a German-style works council for its Tennessee plant, company officials said on Wednesday.

Talks with the United Auto Workers (UAW) are likely to continue into next year, said Sebastian Patta, human resources chief at the Chattanooga factory.

VW must resolve some complex legal issues before setting up a U.S. works council, Patta told Reuters. "This is a very sensitive subject and we have only just started the dialogue."

VW Chattanooga is a focus for UAW leader Bob King's struggle to organize at foreign-owned U.S. plants and bolster a union membership that has dwindled steadily from its 1970s peak.

The German carmaker told Chattanooga staff earlier this month it was in talks with the UAW on representation. The union announced last week it had collected signed cards from a majority of the plant's 2,500 workers backing recognition.

But VW still has to decide whether to recognize the union on the basis of the card count or go ahead with a ballot on whether to recognize the union.

Granting recognition on the basis of the card count is "not a priority", said a Germany-based VW official involved in the discussions, echoing the Chattanooga executive's remarks. He declined to be identified because the talks are confidential.

VW declined comment on the card count or the company's next move. U.S. operations chief Jonathan Browning said earlier this month the union negotiations "may or may not conclude with formal third-party representation" that would ultimately depend on a full vote.

A win in the U.S. South, traditionally hostile to organized labor, could open the door to similar UAW efforts at plants operated by BMW in South Carolina and Mercedes-Benz in Alabama.

(Editing by Laurence Frost and David Holmes)

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