Labor vs. Board

VW’s secret power struggle

main 122758205 sourcer Peter Steffen DPA – VW Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller left and works council head Bernd Osterloh Nov 17 2017 Wolfsburg HQ
A love-hate relationship: VW CEO Matthias Müller (l) and works council head Bernd Osterloh. Source: Peter Steffel / DPA

A conflict brewing between VW’s employees and management escalated last week to the point that the two camps could no longer be in the same room. The works council leaders boycotted a dinner traditionally held on the eve of a key meeting of VW’s supervisory board.

At the last minute, Volkswagen’s works council chairman Bernd Osterloh decided instead he would eat with his fellow employee representatives, who occupy half of the 20-seat supervisory board.

The supervisory board, a non-executive body, is powerful: able to hire and fire executives, set dividend and decide on strategy changes.

Both VW and the works council declined to comment on the changed dining arrangements and their implication. But sources told Handelsblatt Mr. Osterloh’s refusal to break bread with management was based on fears that VW bosses are trying to limit workers’ influence over key decisions at the carmaker. “We get the sense that there are plans to overturn our co-determination rights to a large extent,” said a source at IG Metall, Germany’s largest union.

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