Corker defended himself, saying he had the right as an elected
official to speak out ahead last week's vote, in which workers
rejected the UAW's bid to represent them.
Late last week, the UAW asked the U.S. National Labor Relations
Board to investigate the organizing vote, citing what it
characterized as "interference by politicians and outside special
The UAW spent two years trying to persuade the workers there to
unionize and lost despite cooperation from VW management <VOWG_p.DE>.
Its failure upended plans to use the Chattanooga plant as a
springboard to organizing factories of foreign auto makers in the
In an interview with Reuters, UAW President Bob King said,
"Corporate VW acted with great integrity," in the run-up to last
"Our issue is really with outside third parties trying to threaten
and intimidate both the company and workers," King said. "It was
certainly not the company."
VW cooperated with the union on the vote, allowing organizers to use
its facilities, for instance, while officially remaining neutral.
But a number of anti-union Republicans, including Corker, a former
mayor of Chattanooga who now represents Tennessee in the U.S.
Senate, urged the VW workers to reject the union. Corker and some
members of the state legislature made statements that the UAW
characterized as threats that swayed the results.
Just days before the vote, Corker said he had been "assured" that if
workers at the plant rejected the UAW organizing drive, the company
would reward them by sending new work to the plant. He has declined
to name the source of the assurance.
"I just can't imagine — even as partisan as this NLRB might be — I
can't imagine they would try to keep a United States senator from
weighing in about things they know about," Corker told reporters in
Washington, DC, on Monday.
He told Reuters that a VW decision on whether to expand the
Chattanooga plant appeared to be on hold while the NLRB
"I think until the issue is resolved, it will be difficult (for VW)
to talk with the state about incentives and do all those kind of
things," Corker said.
[to top of second column]
Challenges to union election results typically focus on allegations
of improper conduct by management, and labor experts see the UAW's
focus on outsiders as complicating their case.
"I think it is flimsy," said John James, executive director of the
Center for Global Governance, Reporting and Regulation at Pace
University in New York. Comments by Corker were protected by both
free speech safeguards and Congressional immunity, he noted.
But Lance Compa, who teaches labor law at Cornell University in
Ithaca, New York, said that politicians had gone beyond free speech
in their statements.
"The state legislators crossed that line when they said they would
withhold economic development support for a new product line in the
Chattanooga plant if the employees vote for the UAW. That was an
outright threat which poisoned chances for a fair election," he said
by email. Corker's comments were also a threat, he added, arguing
the NLRB had a case.
Volkswagen had flatly denied Corker's claim that the union vote was
related to factory expansion. But days later, the workers voted
against the union by a 712 to 626 margin.
King acknowledged on Monday that for complaints against third
parties such as Corker, there is "a little bit, not a lot" of
precedent regarding where free speech ends and illegal interference
(Reporting by Peter Henderson in
Oakland, California; editing by Frank McGurty)
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