Republican Senator Bob Corker told Reuters on Thursday that he is
"very certain that if the UAW is voted down," the automaker will
announce new investment in the plant "in the next couple weeks."
Corker's latest remarks seemed to contradict an earlier statement by
Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW Chattanooga, that there was "no
connection" between the vote at its three-year-old Tennessee plant
and a looming decision on whether VW will build a new crossover
vehicle there or in Mexico.
Volkswagen headquarters in Germany declined further comment and
referred to Fischer's statement.
Pro-UAW workers and UAW officials have said the plant will get the
new product regardless of the final vote tally, because making only
one vehicle is not cost-efficient for VW at a plant designed to
build at least two vehicles.
The clashing statements injected further uncertainty into the
outcome of the three-day election, whose implications extend far
beyond Chattanooga. If the vote, which ends on Friday evening,
favors the UAW, it would galvanize a union that has lost 75 percent
of its members since 1979.
Both union and anti-union forces spent much of the week promoting
their views through newspaper ads, websites and billboards.
The Center for Worker Freedom, a special project of Americans for
Tax Reform headed by conservative Grover Norquist, purchased 13
billboards in the Chattanooga area, including 11 digital boards.
One billboard links the UAW to President Barack Obama, whose
national approval ratings are low, and another links the union to
the demise of Detroit, which filed the biggest municipal bankruptcy
in U.S. history last July.
The anti-union Southern Momentum group paid for the production of
three videos available on its website www.no2uaw.com, including one
of a former Volkswagen worker at the company's shuttered plant in
Pennsylvania that once made the Rabbit, and another one narrated by
an actor that lays out a litany of UAW offenses, including support
for liberal political groups that fight gun control.
The UAW bought radio advertisements in the last days of the
campaign, while Southern Momentum took out full-page ads in the
Chattanooga Times Free Press, and ran advertisements in the
Cleveland Banner, the newspaper in Bradley County, north of
Chattanooga, where many VW workers live.
On Wednesday, Corker escalated what has been a seesaw battle between
union and anti-union forces, saying he had been "assured" that if
workers at the factory reject the UAW, the company would reward the
plant with a new product to build.
Corker on Thursday issued a second statement, saying his information
is better than that of Fischer, the top-ranked VW official at
"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," said Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor
who helped negotiate the VW plant deal.
[to top of second column]
In his interview with Reuters, however, Corker would not disclose
the source of his information. It was not immediately clear how much
of an impact his comments would have on the secret ballot, which
remains too close to call.
The UAW's bid to represent VW's 1,550 hourly workers has faced
fierce resistance from Tennessee politicians and national
conservative groups. Corker has long opposed the union, which he
says hurts economic and job growth in Tennessee, a claim that UAW
A defeat could scuttle the 400,000-member union's latest attempt to
stem a decades-long decline in membership, revenue and influence. It
would reinforce the widely held notion that the UAW is unable to
overcome the region's deep antipathy toward organized labor.
If the union wins, VW would institute a German-style works council,
with members elected by plant employees, to make key decisions about
how the facility is run. The UAW would bargain over wages and
benefits, but cede to the council traditional bargaining
prerogatives such as work rules and training.
Tennessee Republican lawmakers have warned that a UAW victory could
mean Volkswagen losing millions of dollars in state incentives. In
order to entice Volkswagen to build its new U.S. plant in Corker's
hometown of Chattanooga, the state gave it about $580 million in
Mike Jarvis, a leader of Southern Momentum, said heavy snow in
Chattanooga may have diminished the vote turnout on Thursday, as the
day shift ended early due to lack of employees.
Jarvis said the turnout was so heavy on Wednesday that he would
estimate that the majority of the plant's 1,550 eligible voters
marked their paper ballots then.
"I voted at lunchtime, and there were probably 200 people behind me
in line," said Jarvis. "And (Wednesday) evening when I greeted
people voting with my (No UAW) T-shirt, people were lined up three
or four across inside the conference center all the way across to
the front of the plant."
Security guards in SUVs kept watch during the voting on Wednesday
and Thursday, mainly to keep out reporters.
(Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit;
editing by Ross
Colvin, Matthew Lewis and Ken Wills)
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