Corker Flip Flops Again on UAW

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.

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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