The United Auto Workers said Friday it is in talks with Volkswagen to unionize the German automaker's US plant and grant workers there a seat on the global works council.
The UAW has been making a major push to organize foreign auto plants in recent years after seeing its membership levels depleted by mass layoffs at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.
Virtually none of the plants operated by foreign automakers in the United States currently is unionized.
Many car factories -- like VW's Tennessee facility -- are located in southern states which generally are not union-friendly.
If the UAW succeeds with Volkswagen, that could increase pressure on German rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz to set up works councils at their US plants.
The UAW noted in a statement Friday that every other major VW assembly facility in the world has worker representation and a seat at the global works council.
"VW workers in Chattanooga have the unique opportunity to introduce this new model of labor relations to the United States, in partnership with the UAW," the union said in a statement.
"Such a labor relations model would give workers the job security that would accompany their having an integral role in managing the company and a vehicle to provide input on workplace improvements that will contribute to the company's success."
A source close to the situation told AFP that the discussions should be described as a "dialogue" rather than formal talks, and that it is not clear where they will lead.
VW's US chief Jonathan Browning has noted that the decision will ultimately rest in the hands of plant workers.
"We've been very clear that that process has to run its course, that no management decision has been made and that it may or may not conclude with formal third-party representation," Browning said Wednesday in a conference call discussing August sales results.
The Tennessee plant's chairman reiterated VW's respect for employee representation in a letter sent to workers Thursday.
"By now there is a very lively discussion in the Chattanooga plant regarding labor representation," Frank Fischer wrote in a letter also signed by the plant's head of human resources.
"We jointly want to prevent any attempt of influence from outside driving a wedge in our great team."