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Sen. Corker stands by claim Volkswagen will expand Tenn. plant if UAW loses unionization vote

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on Thursday stood by his statements that Volkswagen is ready to announce it will expand its lone U.S. plant in Chattanooga if workers there reject the United Auto Workers.

But the Tennessee Republican said in a phone interview with The Associated Press that he didn't inquire whether the German automaker would scrap plans to build a new midsized SUV at the plant if the UAW wins.

About 1,500 workers at the plant are eligible to cast votes in the three-day union election that ends Friday.

Corker declined to say whom at Volkswagen he had spoken to and how they were in a position to know what the German automaker's decision would be.

While the claimed link between the union vote and the expansion decision has long been denied by company officials, Corker said his sources weren't concerned about the release of a potentially conflicting information.

"I don't think there's any question that a public statement was expected to made," he said. "What I did was very, very appropriate."

Corker's comments could raise questions about interference in a union vote.

John Logan, a labour and employment studies professor at San Francisco State University, said politicians are usually not included in rules governing the behaviour of the company, unions and workers during an election.

"But here it could make a difference that he is attributing these comments to VW, even though they appear to be untrue," Logan said in an email.

Corker first made his unattributed claim in a news release on Wednesday night, which prompted Frank Fischer, the CEO of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, to issue a statement that the company's position remains unchanged.

"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," he said.

That didn't dissuade Corker, who issued another statement reiterating his original claim Thursday morning. He defended the move in the phone interview.

"There is no way I'd put out statement like I put out unless I was 1,000 per cent that it was accurate in every way," Corker said. "Not only from the standpoint of my own credibility, but also knowing the stakes that are here, and not wanting to say something that in any way would be off the point."

UAW supporters at the plant said Corker's comments would not turn the vote against the union.

"It's more of an insult than anything," David Gleeson, a team leader on the plant's door line, said in a phone interview.

"He's trying to threaten us with future expansion, and he's actually making workers angry at the plant," he said.

Volkswagen has said a new SUV for the U.S. market will be built either in Chattanooga or in Mexico. The Chattanooga plant makes the midsized Passat sedan, and increased production is seen as crucial to improving efficiency at the facility.

Republican politicians have argued that the introduction of the UAW at the plant would hurt the region's ability to attract manufacturing jobs to the state and region.

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