The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

After UAW defeat in Tennessee, can GOP fulfil promises that more jobs will come?

  • Print

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Republicans fighting a yearslong unionization effort at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee painted a grim picture in the days leading up to last week's vote. They said if Chattanooga employees joined the United Auto Workers, jobs would go elsewhere and incentives for the company would disappear.

Now that workers have rejected the UAW in a close vote, attention turns to whether the GOP can fulfil its promises that keeping the union out means more jobs will come rolling in, the next great chapter in the flourishing of foreign auto makers in the South.

Regardless of what political consequences, if any, Republicans would face if that fails to happen, the Volkswagen vote established a playbook for denying the UAW its goal of expanding into foreign-owned plants in the region, which the union itself has called the key to its long-term future.

On the first of three days of voting at the Chattanooga plant, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker all but guaranteed the German automaker would announce within two weeks of a union rejection that it would build a new midsized sport utility vehicle at its only U.S. factory instead of sending the work to Mexico.

"What they wanted me to know, unsolicited, that if the vote goes negative, they're going to announce immediately that they're going to build a second line," Corker told The Associated Press of his conversations with unnamed Volkswagen officials.

The company reiterated its longstanding position that the union vote would not factor into the decision, and Corker acknowledged that he had no information on whether the company would also expand if the union won.

But the implication was clear, and union leaders said after the vote that the senator's statements — coming in concert with threats from state lawmakers to torpedo state incentives if the UAW won — played a key role in the vote.

The UAW was defeated in a 712-626 vote Friday night.

UAW President Bob King called it unprecedented for Corker and other elected officials to have "threatened the company with no incentives, threatened workers with a loss of product."

"It's outrageous," King said.

Corker, who had originally announced he would refrain from making public comments during the election, changed course last week after he said the union tried to use his silence to chastise other critics. Corker said after the vote that he was happy he joined the fray.

"I have no idea what effect we may or may not have had," Corker said. "But I think I would have forever felt tremendous remorse if ... I had not re-engaged and made sure that people understand other arguments that needed to be put forth."

Corker's claim that a no vote would quickly mean more jobs actually fit in with an assertion Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam levelled days earlier, when he said a union win would hurt the state's ability to attract auto parts suppliers and other future business.

"From our viewpoint, from what we're hearing from other companies, it matters what happens in that vote," he said.

Corker said the day after the vote that he and other state officials planned to restart discussions with Volkswagen officials this week about state subsidies for expanded production in Chattanooga.

Many viewed VW as the union's best chance to win in the South because other automakers have not been as welcoming to organized labour as Volkswagen.

Labour interests make up half of the supervisory board at VW in Germany, and they questioned why the Chattanooga plant is the company's only major factory worldwide without formal worker representation.

VW wanted a German-style "works council" in Chattanooga to give employees, blue collar and salaried workers, a say over working conditions. But the company said U.S. law won't allow it without an independent union.

Several workers who cast votes against the union said they still support the idea of a works council — they just don't want to have to work through the UAW.

Frank Fischer, the CEO and chairman of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, said the vote Friday wasn't a rejection of a works council. He said the goal remains to determine the best method for establishing a works council that serves employees' interest, and Volkswagen America's production in accordance with U.S. law.

Fischer did not address what the vote means for potential expansion at the plant other than to say "our commitment to Tennessee is a long-term investment."

The German automaker's CEO, Martin Winterkorn, announced at the Detroit auto show last month that the seven-passenger SUV will go on sale in the U.S. in 2016. Winterkorn said the new model will be part of a five-year, $7 billion investment in North America.

Winterkorn said Volkswagen is committed to its goal of selling 1 million vehicles per year in the U.S. by 2018. The company sold just over half that many in 2013.

___

Krisher reported from Detroit.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

In the Key of Bart: Can’t It Be Nice This Time?

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Two Canadian geese perch themselves for a perfect view looking at the surroundings from the top of a railway bridge near Lombard Ave and Waterfront Drive in downtown Winnipeg- Standup photo- May 01, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project. Baby peregrine falcons. 21 days old. Three baby falcons. Born on ledge on roof of Radisson hotel on Portage Avenue. Project Coordinator Tracy Maconachie said that these are third generation falcons to call the hotel home. Maconachie banded the legs of the birds for future identification as seen on this adult bird swooping just metres above. June 16, 2004.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What are you most looking forward to this Easter weekend?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google