News & Notes

A ‘Smoking Gun’ in TN Pols’ Anti-UAW Campaign?

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Workers assemble Volkswagen Passat sedans at the German automaker's plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. Workers at the plant will decide in a three-day vote Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, whether they want to be represented by the United Auto Workers union. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, file)

Workers assemble Volkswagen Passat sedans at the German automaker's plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, file)

In February, workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant voted by a narrow margin against joining the United Auto Workers (UAW). In the weeks leading up to the election, during a heated anti-union campaign by outside “pro-business” groups, Republican state lawmakers had held press conferences threatening to withhold incentives from the company if workers opted to join the union. It was widely reported that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam may have made similar threats, but according to Nashville’s local News Channel 5, “the governor had emphatically denied rumors heard by Democratic lawmakers that state incentives were tied to Volkswagen rejecting the UAW.”

But yesterday, the station reported that it had uncovered documents that appear to contradict the governor’s statements. Phil Williams reports, “documents leaked to NewsChannel 5 Investigates offer conclusive proof that the Haslam administration wanted a say in the automaker’s deal with organized labor — in exchange for $300 million in economic incentives to help VW expand its Chattanooga operations.”

Volkswagen opened the Hamilton County facility in May 2011 with great fanfare.

Initially producing the midsize Passat, there were hints of more to come. It was located on a 1,400-acre site with plenty of room for expansion.

Last year, when Volkswagen began talking about adding a midsize SUV to its product line, the Haslam administration began discussing financial incentives to convince the company to build it in Chattanooga.

At the same time, VW began talks with the UAW about creating a workers council to help run the plant.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained a summary from last August for what the Haslam administration called “Project Trinity.”

Marked confidential, it offers Volkswagen incentives of some $300 million — in exchange for 1,350 full-time jobs at a new SUV facility.

The catch?

“The incentives … are subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.”

The Haslam administration claims that it withdrew the offer before the vote was formally announced, but Tennessee Democrats say the document represents a smoking gun in the case. “This is exactly what we was looking for,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner said when News Channel 5 showed him the document. “Looks like to me they put a gun to their head and said, ‘Look, this is what we are going to give you if you do it our way and we are going to jerk it away if you don’t.’”

In  February, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) hinted that he had inside knowledge that Volkswagen would locate the new SUV production line in Tennessee if the plant’s workers rejected the union, a statement that Volkswagen, which remained neutral in the election, flatly denied. And as Williams notes, “that would appear to conflict with the Haslam administration’s admission that it had withdrawn the incentive offer that would have made the deal possible.”

Additional documents obtained by the station “show that Senator Corker’s chief of staff was in direct contact with anti-union organizers who were brought in to fight the UAW. He then shared those emails with people in the Haslam administration who were in charge of the incentives.”

The UAW has asked the National Labor Relations Board to overturn the results of the election due to outside interference by Tennessee politicians. Meanwhile, Volkswagen workers in Germany have threatened to block any future expansion into Southern states that are hostile to organized labor.

Joshua Holland is a senior digital producer for BillMoyers.com. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter or drop him an email at hollandj [at] moyersmedia [dot] com.
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  • Jim

    How about some arrests there Mr. Holder?

  • Anonymous

    Am I missing something here? The VW International Unions have said they will block all expansions in the US if the plant isn’t unionized.

    The TN politicians are saying they’ll withhold subsidies if it is (maybe)?

    What is the issue? Only the unions can issue threats to sway an election? Not businesses?

    Free speech is only good if it is liberal free speech?

  • Anonymous

    Yes, you are missing something. In Germany (where Volkswagen is) the workers have a big say in what the company does, and they don’t want to open plants where workers are serfs (typical in U.S. factories). It’s not the “union”, it is Volkswagen saying, in effect, “We don’t want to open a non-union plant in the United States”.

  • Stacey J. Weinberger

    Bernd Osterloh, who is
    the Volkswagen AG General and Group Works Council chairman, said that
    future investments in the South might be hurt if workers will not
    unionize.
    Osterloh said that, if co-determination isn’t guaranteed, it would be
    more difficult to vote in favor of building another auto plant in the
    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,”
    “The conservatives stirred up massive, anti-union sentiments,” Osterloh
    said, according to Reuters. “It’s possible that the conclusion will be
    drawn that this interference amounted to unfair labor praxis.”

    Why try and hide the truth on what is going on here? VW does not like
    BIG GOVERNMENT trying to run their business and they will not do
    business with the Southern states. Corker and the GOP blew it, quit
    trying to hide the truth!

  • ElC

    Yes you missed something, in fact you missed everything:
    a. There’s no vote to sway, companies building factories arent subject to anyones votes.

    b. A union is hardly an outside party in a unionization vote.
    c. These politicians are supposed to represent their citizens, not lie to scare them into voting against their own interests because other business interests dont want upward pressure on wages.

    I could on and on with whats wrong with what these pols did.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly right. And it is absolutely right for US Senators and Governors, to take a stance and say, a union in Germany is not going to unduly influence a union election in the US, without a counter point.

    Bravo, that they used their standing to counteract.

    And for the record, they were never opposed to worker councils. They were opposed to UAW representation, that devastated Detroit from trying to devastate their state.

    What we need is US law to change, so workers can form a council to engage in discussions with mgmt without first having to have a union.

    As usual, because of the UAW and other unions in the US, US labor law is stuck in the 19th century and assumes that all interactions between labor and mgmt are adversarial.

    That is the problem.

    Let all sides air their view and workers decide. Simple.

  • Anonymous

    Detroit was devastated by (surprise!) terrible, short-sighted management decisions like GM looking to save one-tenth of one penny on a single screw regardless of the impact on quality.

    How about the deadly Corvair? Rather than fix the car, poor Ralph Nader was hunted and harassed mercilessly for exposing its dangers. Management decision.

    How about the deadly Ford Bronco that nearly killed two of my friends (and left both of them crippled after it suddenly rolled three times after getting the death wobbles at speed)? It wasn’t bad enough they didn’t trash the whole design, Ford had the nerve to REBADGE the vehicle the Explorer, underinflate the tires, then blamed Firestone for all of the blowouts. Management decision.

    Those are all management decisions and are just a few examples of what did such heavy damage to the US Auto Industry.

  • Kenny

    White conservatives don’t want to know the truth.

  • Anonymous

    All sides did not air their views. Elected government representatives worked in secret and behind the scenes to undermine this union election. VW, the COMPANY (not their union) wanted this plant to have employee representation in it’s operations.

    You didn’t just miss…you misrepresented.

  • Anonymous

    What is wrong with working behind the scenes? That is where the most productive work is done.

    VW wanted worker councils, not the UAW. It became apparent, that due to antiquated (confrontational based) US labor laws, as a union is a pre-condition to a worker’s council. So VW pinched their noses and went along for the vote.

    Workers received free info from both sides, yes, including inflammatory info, they voted, and that is that.

    Fact remains that the UAW representation has been voted down, not only at VW, but EVERYWHERE it has been tried lately.

  • Anonymous

    Again, you misrepresent.

    VW didn’t care if that representation came via UAW or any other union.

    And government working in secret to undermine this election is not just technically illegal, it’s blatantly illegal.

    I hope VW tells TN to get fucked.

  • Anonymous

    No it is not illegal. What law do you think was broken? The law against interference and intimidation on union elections is directed at the companies, not outside individuals.

    Politicians have full right to try to influence events in their districts, including voicing the support or opposition to additional tax brakes to companies based on their unionization status.

    Obama had the right to support the unionization and the TN Republicans had the right to oppose it.

    What law exactly was broken?

    The UAW is sour, because it has seen its membership crater, it had to accept starting wages in Detroit that are lower than starting wages in TN, and workers see no value in it.

    In the past (40s), the UAW was able to unionize workers, even in the face of political opposition, police intimidation, private security forces beatings. Why? Because it offered something that workers wanted/needed.

    Now, the UAW can’t unionize anything even with company support. Why? Because it has nothing to offer. The UAW was successful in the 50s and 60s to codify into law most of what they wanted.

    Now, they are just a leech.