Tea Party senator levels bizarre extortion threat in auto fight

After Volkswagen agrees not to intimidate workers, Sen. Corker decides to do it for them. Here's the awful story

Topics: Bob Corker, Volkswagen, VW, UAW, Tennessee, Unions, Labor, Editor's Picks, Tea Party, , ,

Tea Party senator levels bizarre extortion threat in auto fightSen. Bob Corker (Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron)

Right-wing efforts to avert a precedent-setting union victory escalated dramatically Wednesday and Thursday, with U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R- Tenn., announcing that if Chattanooga Volkswagen workers voted down unionization, the company would bring more business to their plant.

“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,” Corker said in a statement following the first of three days of voting by VW employees on whether to become the company’s first unionized workers in the United States.

Corker’s statement, titled “Corker: Conversations Today Indicate a Vote Against UAW Is a Vote for SUV Production,” noted that when Corker was mayor of Chattanooga in the early 2000s, “Much of the negotiation that led to Volkswagen choosing Chattanooga occurred around the dining room table of Corker’s Chattanooga home.” Asked whether, as the statement would appear to imply, Corker was suggesting that a vote to join the United Auto Workers would hurt the Chattanooga workers’ chances of securing the new SUV, a Corker spokesperson declined to comment further.

In a contrasting statement issued after Corker’s, Volkswagen CEO Frank Fischer said, “There is no connection between our Chattanooga employees’ decision about whether to be represented by a union and the decision where to build a new product for the U.S. market.” Corker shot back at the automaker Thursday, saying in an emailed statement that VW expansion decisions “are not being made by anyone in management at the Chattanooga plant” and that “Fischer is having to use old talking points when he responds to press inquiries.” Corker added that he “would not have made the statement I made yesterday without being confident it was true and factual.”

As I’ve reported, the VW vote has far-reaching implications for the UAW’s ambitions to organize the overwhelmingly non-union ranks of U.S. employees of foreign automakers, and for organized labor’s efforts to go on offense and organize the South. “We’ve said that when workers have a free, open choice, they’ll choose union representation every time,” UAW International president Bob King told Salon last week. “And I think VW Chattanooga will prove that.”

You Might Also Like

Following pressure from the UAW and the German VW workers’ union IG Metall, Volkswagen has maintained a stance of official neutrality on the union vote, publicly eschewing the anti-union campaigning that is commonplace in U.S. union drives. (Union members abroad have also lent support to U.S. organizing campaigns at companies including Wal-Mart, Ikea and the Australian logistics giant Toll Group.) Both UAW and VW have expressed support for pairing traditional collective bargaining with a German-style works council, in which elected employees offer input in company governance – a model King told Salon would yield “a lot more ownership in the success of the company.”

But while VW management has emphasized its neutrality toward the union, key conservatives haven’t. The Center for Worker Freedom — a project of Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, directed by the co-author of an anti-union Op-Ed calling on Chattanoogans to follow the example of Confederate soldiers – has mounted billboards urging a “no” vote. Tennessee Republicans have suggested that unionization could cost VW its tax breaks: State Sen. Bo Watson told the Detroit Free Press that if workers went union, “then I believe additional incentives for expansion will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate”; Gov. Bill Haslam told the Tennessean that “if UAW comes, we won’t be as effective in helping you build that supplier network.” And Corker, after saying in September that “to invite the UAW in is almost beyond belief,” then last week that it would not be “appropriate for me to make additional public comments,” is doubling down on the claim a vote against the UAW would be followed by expansion in Chattanooga.

Though apparently unauthorized by VW Chattanooga management, Corker’s comments illustrate how, in an era of globalization, capital mobility offers a powerful cudgel against workers’ organizing efforts. Fifty-seven percent of government-supervised union elections are marked by threats from management that a plant could shut down, according to research from Cornell’s Kate Bronfenbrenner. The implication “that we’ll have to ship this work somewhere else” helped defeat the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in a landmark 21-6 vote at an Amazon warehouse last month, according to a union spokesperson.

And the National Labor Relations Board ignited a political firestorm by investigating the aerospace giant Boeing for citing workers’ repeated strikes as a reason to move production elsewhere. Although it’s illegal to retaliate against workers for mounting legally protected strikes, those charges were withdrawn when Boeing reached a contract settlement with the IAM in 2011. Faced with the specter of another line of aircraft being produced elsewhere, Puget Sound Boeing workers narrowly approved major concessions last month.

Under U.S. labor law, it’s generally legal for management to “predict” negative consequences from unionization, but not to “threaten” them. In extreme cases, comments by third parties could also be found to have ruined the “laboratory conditions” required for a fair election; Indiana University professor Kenneth Dau-Schmidt told Reuters that Corker’s statements “would be grounds to set the election aside and have to run it all over again at a later date.”

Nonetheless, Wednesday and Thursday statements, the UAW maintained optimism about Friday night’s vote count. “Senator Corker’s comments directly contradict statements made by Volkswagen …” said UAW regional director Gary Casteel. “Who better knows about product placement than Volkswagen?”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...