Did Sen. Bob Corker’s Anti-Union Rhetoric Hurt Prospects for Expansion at the Chattanooga Volkswagen Plant in Tennessee?

BobCorkerSubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Weekend Contributor

Last week, Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee “ramped up his anti-union rhetoric” in hopes of persuading workers at Volkswagen AG’s plant in Chattanooga to vote against representation by the United Auto Workers. According to Reuters, on February 12th, Corker said he had been “assured” that if workers at the Volkswagen plant in his hometown rejected representation by UAW, the company would “reward the plant with a new product to build.” Bernie Woodall of Reuters said that Corker dropped that “bombshell” on the “first of a three-day secret ballot election of blue-collar workers” at the Chattanooga plant. The most troubling part—as I see it—is that Corker’s claim actually ran “counter to public statements by Volkswagen…”

The following day, Corker said that he was “very certain that if the UAW is voted down,” the automaker would announce new investment in the plant “in the next couple weeks.” It seems Corker hadn’t heard—or chose to ignore—a statement made earlier 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 or in Mexico.”

Volkswagen officials acknowledged “their desire for a works council, arguing that their model of labor-management relations serves them well in every other country in the world, except China.” Under U.S. law, however, the company would not be able to “set up a works council without first having its employees vote for a union.”

The UAW “was dealt a stinging defeat” when a majority of employees at the Chattanooga facility voted against joining the union “after a high-profile opposition campaign led by Republican politicians and outside political groups.” According to the Washington Post, the auto union’s loss “came in spite of an unprecedented level of support from the company being organized.” Fischer who had actually “encouraged the idea of starting a German-style ‘works council’ at the plant, like those in place at Volkswagen’s other factories'” apparently was “saddened by the outcome.”

Fisher speaking after the union vote (Washington Post):

“Our employees have not made a decision that they are against a works council. Throughout this process, we found great enthusiasm for the idea of an American-style works council both inside and outside our plant,” Fischer said, reading from a statement. “Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a works council in accordance with the requirements of U.S. labor law to meet VW America’s production needs and serve our employees’ interests.”

Gary Casteel, organizer for the UAW’s Southern Region, said, “Unfortunately, politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that would grow jobs in Tennessee.”

Casteel was making reference to anti-union remarks made by “Tennessee’s Republican lawmakers, who threatened to withhold tax incentives from Volkswagen if the workers unionized, and attention from D.C.-based activist Grover Norquist.” UAW officials said they noticed that workers began “to turn against the union as they started hearing ‘threats and intimidation’ against the company.”

It appears that the Chattanooga auto workers may have made a big mistake when they rejected UAW membership last week. According to Huffington Post, theirs is the only “Volkswagen plant worldwide without a formal mechanism for workers’ representation.”

Huffington Post:

The German “co-determination” model mandates works councils, which connect employees to management, at all large German companies. Following the union vote, the head of Volkswagen’s works council told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the automaker would hesitate to expand in the U.S. South.

“I can imagine fairly well that another VW factory in the United States, provided that one more should still be set up there, does not necessarily have to be assigned to the South again,” said works council leader Bernd Osterloh.

“If co-determination isn’t guaranteed in the first place, we as workers will hardly be able to vote in favor” of building another plant in the right-to-work South, Osterloh added.

UAW chief says Bob Corker intimidated workers at Chattanooga Volkswagen plant

Now, thanks to Senator Bob Corker and others who spoke out against UAW representation for workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant it looks like the company probably won’t be rewarding the facility with  any “new product” manufacturing there…or anywhere else in the “right-to-work South.”


Turns Out Anti-Union Volkswagen Workers May Have Screwed Themselves And The South (Huffington Post)

Did Bob Corker Taint The UAW’s Volkswagen Union Election? And If So, Will He Get Away With It? Turns Out Anti-Union Volkswagen Workers May Have Screwed Themselves And The South (Huffington Post)

As Volkswagen workers vote, Tennessee senator ramps up anti-union talk (Reuters)

VW workers may block southern U.S. deals if no unions: labor chief (Reuters)

U.S. senator drops bombshell during VW plant union vote (Reuters)

Auto union loses historic election at Volkswagen plant in Tennessee (Washington Post)

All eyes on Chattanooga: VW’s workers are deciding the future of unions in the South (Washington Post)

204 thoughts on “Did Sen. Bob Corker’s Anti-Union Rhetoric Hurt Prospects for Expansion at the Chattanooga Volkswagen Plant in Tennessee?”

  1. Pro-union Nissan worker in Mississippi: The UAW-VW vote in Chattanooga only ‘made us stronger’
    By Joe Atkins, Labor South

    Chip Wells, 43, an 11-year veteran at the 5,200-employee Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., says the recent bad news coming out of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., did nothing to deter him and fellow pro-union Nissan workers from their campaign to join the United Auto Workers.

    “People think that derailed us,” says Wells, who works in Nissan’s paint department, “but we think it made us stronger. That plant (in Chattanooga) was only opened for two years. They’re still in the honeymoon phase.”

    The UAW “made some mistakes and they realize it,” he says. “The demographics were different. Here labor rights are civil rights, actually human rights

  2. Labor denounces Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker’s comments

    Bob Corker won the endorsement of organized labor when he ran for Chattanooga mayor in 2001, but union leaders Monday night denounced Corker for repeated criticisms of the United Auto Workers in his current job as U.S. senator.

    Gary Watkins, president of the Chattanooga Area Labor Council, said Corker “is just wrong” in his claim that the UAW would hurt Volkswagen and the community.

    “These are good people (at the UAW) who are here to help people, but I think they’ve been given a bum wrap in a lot of ways,” Watkins said. “We don’t censor free speech, but when you have a bully pulpit like a U.S. senator is given, you have to rein in your power and watch what you say. I can’t imagine our founding fathers having any vision of anyone being able to do what he (Corker) has done.”

    Larry Crim, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, told a Labor Unity Dinner Monday night that Corker misused his Senate office to encourage VW workers to vote against UAW representation. He also criticized Republican legislators for threatening to withhold assistance to VW if the plant is unionized.

    “It’s an improper thing to do for a United States senator to try to bring the power of his office and the power of these other state offices to say that your taxes will either be provided as an incentive or withdrawn as a penalty based upon who workers decide to associate with at their work site,” Crim said. “It seems clear that there was an overreach here and I stand with labor on that.”

  3. hskiprob

    Elaine M. I think that it is quite interesting that you failed to note the authors book, Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis and his contrarian belief of what he stated in his article.



    You really need to read more carefully. Here…I’ll post that earlier comment for you again:

    Elaine M.

    Repeal of Glass-Steagall Caused the Financial Crisis
    The repeal of the law separating commercial and investment banking caused the 2008 financial crisis.
    By James Rickards
    (James Rickards is a hedge fund manager in New York City and the author of Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis)

    The oldest propaganda technique is to repeat a lie emphatically and often until it is taken for the truth. Something like this is going on now with regard to banks and the financial crisis. The big bank boosters and analysts who should know better are repeating the falsehood that repeal of Glass-Steagall had nothing to do with the Panic of 2008.

    In fact, the financial crisis might not have happened at all but for the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall law that separated commercial and investment banking for seven decades. If there is any hope of avoiding another meltdown, it’s critical to understand why Glass-Steagall repeal helped to cause the crisis. Without a return to something like Glass-Steagall, another greater catastrophe is just a matter of time…

    In 1999, Democrats led by President Bill Clinton and Republicans led by Sen. Phil Gramm joined forces to repeal Glass-Steagall at the behest of the big banks. What happened over the next eight years was an almost exact replay of the Roaring Twenties. Once again, banks originated fraudulent loans and once again they sold them to their customers in the form of securities. The bubble peaked in 2007 and collapsed in 2008. The hard-earned knowledge of 1933 had been lost in the arrogance of 1999.


    Did I fail to note the author’s book in my comment?

  4. Tennessee Paper Pushes Koch-Connected Anti-Union Message Ahead Of UAW Vote
    Blog ››› February 12, 2014

    A misleading op-ed in Chattanooga’s Times Free Press, co-written by a Koch and ALEC ally, falsely claimed creating a union in a local Volkswagen plant would negatively impact the state economy and plant relations, despite evidence to the contrary.

    The February 12 op-ed co-authored by Justin Owen of the Koch-tied Beacon Center and anti-union UAW member Terry Bowman misleadingly accused unions of threatening jobs and economic opportunity in the state and claimed workers could have an equal voice in plant decisions without a union:

    “When all is said and done, the UAW is a hyper-political organization with perspectives and policies contrary to those of many of the workers it claims to represent. The union has a history of using workers’ dues to influence elections at all levels of government. Those policies have failed in Detroit and do not fit in a state like Tennessee that is trying to create automotive jobs and economic opportunity. And while many of Tennessee’s auto workers have already expressed their opposition to the UAW, the battle is far from over.

    “Workers should absolutely have the opportunity to freely associate with each other and explore with their respective employers ways to improve their workplace and the quality of the products they produce. At the same time, Volkswagen can allow this to happen by using current, nonunion workers, instead of insisting that only a UAW-represented plant can enter into a works council agreement.”

    The anti-union reaction from Owen is no surprise as his organization, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, is a registered member of the State Policy Network (SPN). According to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy, the SPN and its member organizations “are major drivers of the right-wing” agenda:

    “Although many of SPN’s member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, our in-depth investigation reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, ALEC-backed agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities.”

    1. Elaine M. – As compared to the socialist left-wing agendas of the public unions and their employees???? The government gets away with promoting left-wing socialism and communism, and when those that promote capitalism fight back, they are the Koch supported evil of society? Watch out for them!!!! ohhhh

      Unions are good yet some unions are bad. The issues in this particulate case are extremely complex, but thinking that every Company should be unionize, especially by that of the UAW, without great consideration is irrational.

      When are you going to understand that we are fighting against fascism not capitalism? Free Market Capitalism; good. Socialism, fascism and communism; bad. Nothing is perfect but thinking that a system that takes away the rights of the majority is going to best benefit that group, is illogical.

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