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Working In These Times

Friday, Feb 28, 2014, 1:18 pm

Sen. Corker Defends His Volkswagen Claims, Blames Lack of SUV Line on UAW

BY Mike Elk and Cole Stangler

Senator Bob Corker's (R-Tenn) interference in the Chattanooga Volkswagen vote to unionize could provide grounds to overturn the election results.   (Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

Last week, the United Auto Workers union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board after losing an election at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, alleging that anti-UAW comments from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and other prominent state Republicans amounted to “outside interference.”   

Corker’s statements, in particular—which suggested the planned expansion of the plant could be at risk depending on the outcome of the election—were cited by the UAW as leading many workers to vote against unionization.

But now the senator is backpedalling. In an interview with Working In These Times on Thursday, Corker said he was only trying to counter intimidation on the part of the union.

“The UAW was telling all the folks inside the plant that the only way the plant would expand would be if the UAW was successful in organizing the plant," Corker says. "And so I just wanted to make sure that employees knew that Chattanooga was still going to be number one if they didn’t.”

The senator toed a similar line in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday.

Corker, however, never raised these motivations when he spoke out earlier this month about how the election could impact new work coming to the factory.

“I’ve had conversations … 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,” Corker told reporters on the first day of the three-day election.

Pro-UAW Volkswagen workers were quick to refute Corker’s allegation of union intimidation.

“I am incredibly offended by Corker’s statements,” says pro-UAW Volkswagen worker Bryon Spencer. “The only side spreading lies, misinformation, and rumors is the anti - [union] side. It is apparent to me that Corker is in bed with these folks. Corker promised us our SUV in two weeks if we voted down the union.”

Corker told the Associated Press that if the union lost, Volkswagen would announce production of the new SUV line at the Chattanooga plant within two weeks. Today marks two weeks since the UAW election defeat; no announcement has been made.

Corker blames the silence on the UAW’s decision to file NLRB charges. In a February 21 response to the UAW charges, Corker said, “The workers at Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant spoke very clearly last week, so we are disappointed the UAW is ignoring their decision and has filed this objection. Unfortunately, I have to assume that today's action may slow down Volkswagen's final discussions on the new SUV line.”

Corker, who served as mayor of Chattanooga from 2001 to 2005, has repeatedly declined to reveal the source of his purported information about the plant’s expansion. If the source was within VW, that could provide grounds for the UAW to file an unfair labor practice charge.

When pressed by Working In These Times as to whether his source was a Volkswagen representative, Corker cited a “whole host of people both in and outside of the company that I’m constantly in contact with.”

“Believe me,” Corker said, “I would never say anything that I didn’t believe to be 100 percent true.”

But for Byron Spencer, Corker’s word isn’t good enough. “The union was voted [upon] and we have no SUV,” says Spencer. “I think it is quite obvious who is lying here.”

UAW is a website sponsor of In These Times. Sponsors have no role in editorial content.

Mike Elk and Cole Stangler are staff writers at In These Times. Read Elk's other reporting here and Stangler's here.

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