* Corker has long opposed UAW
* Labor expert says Corker's comment could nullify vote
* Worker vote on UAW representation continues through Friday
By Bernie Woodall
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., Feb 12 U.S. Senator Bob
Corker of Tennessee said on Wednesday he has been "assured" that
if workers at the Volkswagen AG plant in his
hometown of Chattanooga reject United Auto Worker
representation, the company will reward the plant with a new
product to build.
Corker's bombshell, which runs counter to public statements
by Volkswagen, was dropped on the first of a three-day secret
ballot election of blue-collar workers at the Chattanooga plant
whether to allow the UAW to represent them.
Corker has long been an opponent of the union which he says
hurts economic and job growth in Tennessee, a charge that UAW
officials say is untrue.
"I've had conversations today and based on those am assured
that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will
announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new
mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga," said Corker, without saying
with whom he had the conversations.
In the past few weeks, Volkswagen officials have made
several statements that the vote will have no bearing on whether
the SUV will be made at the Chattanooga plant or at a plant in
National Labor Relations Board expert Kenneth G.
Dau-Schmidt, who is professor of labor at the University of
Indiana-Bloomington, said Corker was trying to intimidate
workers into voting against the union.
"I'm really kind of shocked at Corker's statement," said
Dau-Schmidt. "It's so inconsistent with what VW has been saying
and VW's labor relations policy in general."
The Indiana professor also said Corker's comments "would be
grounds to set the election aside and have to run it all over
again at a later date" because it could be ruled to be
interfering to the point that it is against federal labor law.
A spokeswoman for Corker did not respond when asked whether
the senator also meant that a vote for the UAW would mean that
the plant would not get the new product, which could create an
estimated 1,500 new jobs.
Volkswagen officials did not return calls and emails for
comment on Corker's statement.
Mike Burton of Southern Momentum, an anti-UAW group of plant
workers, said Corker's statement makes sense.
"We are in a battle with Mexico on where this new product
goes," said Burton, "and it stands to reason that the union will
add costs. We need to keep costs down to fight for that new
Another labor expert, Harley Shaiken of the University of
California-Berkeley, said, "The senator's comments amount to
economic intimidation that undermines the whole nature of union
Shaiken often advises UAW officials.
"If the senator's statement doesn't violate the letter of
the law, it certainly violates the spirit of the law," Shaiken
Gary Casteel, UAW regional director for a 12-state area that
includes Tennessee, said on Wednesday night, "Corker's statement
is in direct contradiction to Volkswagen's statements.
"They have specifically said that this vote will have no
bearing on the decision of where to place the new product."
In the past, Casteel has said that Volkswagen's Chattanooga
plant, opened in 2011, needs a second product to survive. It has
built the compact Passat sedan since it opened.
The plant has about 1,550 Volkswagen workers eligible to
vote in the election, which is supervised by the National Labor
Pro- and anti-UAW workers said they were not sure if snowy
weather will affect turnout for the vote, which ends on Friday
when the plant does not produce cars.
On Wednesday - day one of the vote - the night shift was
canceled after only one car was produced because snow prevented
workers reaching the plant, said two VW employees who wished to
A source familiar with the plans of the Volkswagen
supervisory board which makes decisions on product placement
said that the board has not yet made a decision on the issue,
and that it will take it up in a meeting on Feb. 22.
Corker on Tuesday returned from Washington to hold a Tuesday
press conference at his downtown Chattanooga senate office in
order to speak against the UAW in time for the worker vote at