* Corker: if UAW voted down, VW will announce investment
* VW denies vote, future investment are connected
* Outcome of three-day secret ballot remains too close to
* A win at Tennessee plant could galvanize weakened UAW
By Richard Cowan and Bernie Woodall
WASHINGTON/CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., Feb 13 One of
Tennessee's two U.S. senators ramped up his anti-union rhetoric
on Thursday in an attempt to sway workers at Volkswagen AG's
Chattanooga plant who are voting this week on
representation by the United Auto Workers.
Republican Senator Bob Corker told Reuters on Thursday that
he is "very certain that if the UAW is voted down," the
automaker will announce new investment in the plant "in the next
Corker's latest remarks contradicted an earlier statement by
Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW Chattanooga, that there was
"no connection" between the vote at its three-year-old Tennessee
plant and a looming decision on whether VW will build a new
crossover vehicle there.
Volkswagen headquarters in Germany declined further comment
and referred to Fischer's statement.
The dueling statements injected further uncertainty into the
outcome of the three-day election, whose implications extend far
beyond Chattanooga. If the vote, which ends on Friday evening,
favors the UAW, it would galvanize a union that has been
bleeding members over the years.
On Wednesday, Corker escalated what has been a seesaw battle
between union and anti-union forces, saying he had been
"assured" that if workers at the factory reject the UAW, the
company would reward the plant with a new product to build.
Corker on Thursday issued a second statement, saying his
information is better than that of Fischer, the top-ranked VW
official at Chattanooga.
"After all these years and my involvement with Volkswagen, I
would not have made the statement I made yesterday without being
confident it was true and factual," said Corker, a former
Chattanooga mayor who helped negotiate the VW plant deal.
In his interview with Reuters, however, Corker would not
disclose the source of his information. It was not immediately
clear how much of an impact his comments would have on the
secret ballot, which remains too close to call.
The UAW's bid to represent VW's 1,550 hourly workers has
faced fierce resistance from Tennessee politicians and national
conservative groups. Corker has long opposed the union, which he
says hurts economic and job growth in Tennessee, a claim that
UAW officials dispute.
A defeat could scuttle the 400,000-member union's latest
attempt to stem a decades-long decline in membership, revenue
and influence. It would reinforce the widely held notion that
the UAW is unable to overcome the region's deep antipathy toward
If the union wins, VW would institute a German-style works
council, with members elected by plant employees, to make key
decisions about how the facility is run. The UAW would bargain
over wages and benefits, but cede to the council traditional
bargaining prerogatives such as work rules and training.
VW has been publicly neutral on the vote. But when the
German automaker last week announced an agreement with the UAW
to coordinate their messages to workers, the union received a
significant boost it has not had in previous, unsuccessful
organizing efforts in the South.
Voter turnout was reported to be heavy on Wednesday but snow
on Thursday could affect how many vote, according to both pro-
and anti-UAW workers.
The plant produces the mid-size Passat sedan from Monday
through Thursdays and is normally closed on Fridays.
Earlier this week, Tennessee Republican lawmakers said if
the UAW was voted into the Chattanooga plant, Volkswagen could
lose millions of dollars in state incentives. In order to entice
Volkswagen to build its new U.S. plant in Corker's hometown of
Chattanooga, the state gave it about $580 million in incentives.
Corker was instrumental in lobbying Volkswagen to put the
plant, which opened in 2011, in Chattanooga. Early meetings with
Volkswagen officials from Germany were held at his home.