labor day

The Kingmaker at VW

VW Osterloh, PR
Bernd Osterloh heads the workers' council and represents labor on VW's board.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Bernd Osterloh, who heads up Volkswagen’s 600,000-strong workforce, is a major behind-the-scenes player in the power struggle over current CEO Martin Winterkorn.

  • Facts


    • Supervisory board chief Ferdinand Piëch last Friday withdrew his support for Mr. Winterkorn.
    • The steering committee of the supervisory board is expected to meet at the end of this week.
    • Global VW brand sales fell 1.3 percent, U.S. sales even 9.3 percent in the first quarter of 2015.
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Few labor leaders enjoy as much power as Bernd Osterloh, the leader of Volkswagen’s army of 600,000 workers. He will be a key figure in efforts to resolve the leadership dispute triggered by supervisory board chairman Ferdinand Piëch, who last Friday declared that chief executive Martin Winterkorn had fallen out of favor.

The phone lines are running hot in Mr. Osterloh’s fourth-floor office in Volkswagen’s gigantic home plant in Wolfsburg. All the main players in the power struggle are seeking his input, say sources close to the proceedings.

Mr. Osterloh is in touch with Mr. Piëch, Mr. Winterkorn, Wolfgang Porsche – chairman of the Porsche SE holding company which controls 51 percent of VW common stock – and with Stephan Weil, premier of the state of Lower Saxony, which is VW’s second-largest shareholder.

“We’re looking for a swift, comprehensive solution,” said a source close to engineering union IG Metall, which Mr. Osterloh and 97 percent of Volkswagen’s workers in Germany belong to.

There are plans to hold a special meeting of the board’s steering committee at the end of the week but no exact time has yet been set.

While the works council is looking for common ground with the Piëch and Porsche families that own a majority of the group, Mr. Winterkorn is doing his job “at full throttle,” said a person close to him, adding, however, that it was clear that he’s no longer master of his own fate. “The decision will have to be taken in the supervisory board,” the person said.

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