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Working In These Times

Thursday, Feb 13, 2014, 8:25 pm

Corker Flip Flops Again on UAW

BY Mike Elk

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) pledged not to comment publicly on UAW's organizing campaign, but then just couldn't keep himself from union-bashing.   (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

When it was announced last week that the UAW would be holding an election of 1,550 autoworkers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the former mayor of Chattanooga, who had previously campaigned publicly against the UAW, wrote in a statement, “During the next week and a half, while the decision is in the hands of the employees, I do not think it is appropriate for me to make additional public comment.” 

However, when workers began casting votes on Wednesday, Senator Corker went back on his pledge, issuing a statement saying, "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.”

Frank Fischer, the chairman and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga, was quick to rebut the allegation that the union election would have a bearing on expanding SUV production. In a statement on Thursday, Fisher said “There is no connection between our Chattanooga employees' decision about whether to be represented by a union and the decision about where to build a new product for the U.S. market.”

Corker fired back that Fisher had no idea what he was talking about.

"Believe me, the decisions regarding the Volkswagen expansion are not being made by anyone in management at the Chattanooga plant, and we are also very aware Frank Fischer is having to use old talking points when he responds to press inquiries," Corker said in a statement on Thursday. "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."

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Corker refused to reveal his source.

While it’s unclear whether Corker really has inside information about the effect of a union vote on VW’s SUV production plans, union activists were displeased to see Corker get involved in their union election when he said he wouldn’t. “He is a textbook flip flopper,” Volkswagen worker Byron Spencer, who favors the UAW, told Working In These Times in a Facebook message. Spencer and others say that this isn’t the first time that Corker has flip flopped when it comes to matters involving the UAW. 

In recent interviews, Corker has repeatedly cited the General Motors plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., which the UAW has represented for more than 25 years, as example of how the Volkswagen plant will be ruined if the UAW represents the workers there. "I wish that people who care about this issue could have been inside the GM plant at Spring Hill … the environment that the UAW has created is sad to watch,” Corker told the local online news magazine Nooga.com in September 2013.

But when Corker was inside the Spring Hill plant, he had a different take. In a video of Corker’s 2007 visit to the plant provided to Working In These Times earlier this month, Corker said, “To be here today has been most uplifting to me … and it really will affect me as to how I approach some of the issues into the future knowing that this company is investing ... in employees to make sure that it leads the way into the future. After being here, it even more so makes you want to … [put] in place policies ... that cause companies like this to thrive."

Spencer tells Working In These Times that Corker’s reversal of his promise to remain silent and his contradicting statements on Spring Hill raise serious questions about his credibility.

“I would say it is indicative of his desperation,” says Spencer.  “I do think his tactics will prove ineffective and backfire. My coworkers are much smarter than that and won't appreciate the condescending tone taken by Corker.”

Full disclosure: The author’s mother worked on an auto assembly line at a VW plant in Westmoreland County, Pa., until it closed in 1988, and was a member of UAW. UAW is a website sponsor of In These Times. Sponsors have no role in editorial content.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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