Webcast – VW’s Chattanooga Adventure: Lessons Learned in Europe and America

March 12, 2014

​Multinational employers are increasingly facing complications from distinctly national labor laws and principles. The recent experience of the German car manufacturer VW is illustrative. Under pressure from the mighty German union IG Metall, VW tried to establish a German-style works council at its Chattanooga plant. Unlike in Germany, this effort was possible in the U.S. only through collective bargaining with an employee-selected labor union. VW sought this bargaining relationship through a pre-election agreement with the UAW that encouraged the union to organize the Chattanooga plant. But this agreement backfired when workers rejected the UAW, leaving VW without a works council. VW’s experience highlights the dangers of underestimating the differences between U.S. and European labor practices.

Members of Gibson Dunn’s international labor and employment practice with expertise in U.S., German and U.K. labor laws review the differences between U.S. and European labor laws and practices. Our panelists also highlight important legal trends in the U.S. and Europe and will provide valuable practical tips to avoid common pitfalls when dealing with trade unions and works councils.

Topics discussed:

  • Employee Free Choice and Collective Bargaining under U.S. Labor Laws
  • The Prohibition on Employer-Dominated Unions
  • Pre- and Post-Election Dealings with a Labor Union
  • European Works Councils
  • Domestic Works Councils and Trade Unions in UK and Germany


William Kilberg — Senior partner in Gibson Dunn’s Washington, D.C. office and Labor & Employment practice, and former Solicitor for the U.S. Department of Labor. Mr. Kilberg counsels and represents clients in all aspects of employee relations, labor relations, and employee compensation and benefits. He recently served as lead counsel for Boeing in a complaint brought by the National Labor Relations Board challenging Boeing’s decision to open a new plant in Charleston, South Carolina. Described by Lawdragon as “the labor lawyer of choice for corporate America,” and “one of the most esteemed employment lawyers in the land.” Named MVP in employment law for 2011 by Law 360 and among the 100 Most Powerful Employment Attorneys in the nation by Human Resource Executivemagazine. Washingtonian Magazine named Mr. Kilberg as one of the Top Lawyers in Labor and Employment. Mr. Kilberg also previously served as Associate Solicitor of Labor for Labor Relations and Civil Rights, General Counsel of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and as a White House Fellow and Special Assistant to Secretary of Labor George P. Shultz.


Mark Zimmer — German-qualified partner in the Munich office of Gibson Dunn and a Certified Expert for Employment Law. Mr. Zimmer advises companies in all labor and employment-related matters. Legal Experts EMEA 2013 and Chambers Europe 2013 rank Mr. Zimmer among the leading employment lawyers in Germany. Chambers Europe has commented that “sources appreciate his excellent guidance as well as his availability and business sense” and note that he is “rated for his wide-ranging expertise“. The JUVE Handbook 2012/2013 recommends Mr. Zimmer for his “outstanding expertise.” Mr. Zimmer’s practice includes reorganizations, mergers and acquisitions, collective dismissals and negotiations with works councils or unions, as well as hiring and separation of executives.

James Cox — Partner in Gibson Dunn’s London office with extensive experience in labour and employment matters, including contentious and non-contentious labour and employment matters, cross-border employment issues, collective labour and industrial disputes, redundancies and workforce restructurings, ARD/TUPE, the employment aspects of public and private mergers and acquisitions and outsourcing arrangements, corporate governance matters, boardroom appointments and removals. Mr. Cox is recommended as a leading lawyer for Employment in the 2007-2013 annual editions of Chambers UK. He is also recognised as a leading employment lawyer by Chambers Global 2013, Chambers Europe 2013, Legal 500 UK 2013, Best Lawyers International (2009-2013), Best Lawyers in the UK (2014), Euromoney’s Labour & Employment Expert Guide and UK Legal Experts 2012.