published Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Charges fly ahead of NLRB hearing on Chattanooga Volkswagen plant's union vote

Volkswagen Chattanooga
Volkswagen Chattanooga

The post-election fight over the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant's union vote hit high gear Wednesday, as anti-United Auto Workers activists challenged subpoenas ahead of a federal hearing while Democratic congressmen sought an investigation.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., joined others in battling the UAW subpoenas for the planned National Labor Relations Board hearing on the union's appeal of the February worker election at the plant.

"Everyone understands that after a clear defeat, the UAW is trying to create a sideshow so we have filed a motion to revoke these baseless subpoenas," said Todd Womack, Corker's chief of staff, in a statement. "Neither Sen. Corker nor his staff will attend the hearing on Monday."

Meanwhile, two U.S. House Democrats said they'll investigate whether Tennessee Republicans may have violated "or otherwise run afoul" of federal laws before the vote, in which workers rejected the UAW by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin.

Reps. George Miller of California and John Tierney of Massachusetts said they want to know if any politicians attached inappropriate strings to the state's $300 million incentive package to get VW to expand the Chattanooga plant.

In its NLRB appeal, the UAW cited Corker's statement during the election that should workers reject the UAW, he had assurances VW would bring a second vehicle assembly line to Chattanooga. The UAW charges also claim intimidation from Republican state legislators who linked future economic development incentives for the VW plant to a rejection of the union.

Corker and others have denied doing anything inappropriate.

In addition to the former Chattanooga mayor, several UAW opponents said they're seeking to revoke the subpoenas served on them and two dozen politicians and others last week.

Southern Momentum, a local group that fought the union, said the subpoenas were overly broad, burdensome and fail to describe what evidence is sought.

"The UAW's 'throw it up and see what sticks' approach simply is not allowed under the applicable rules," said Southern Momentum.

Maury Nicely, an attorney for the group, said the UAW is trying "to see what they can force people to show."

Matt Patterson, who heads the anti-UAW Center for Worker Freedom, said he wasn't going to be in Chattanooga on Monday, noting the center is battling the subpoena based on grounds that "this is a fishing expedition."

He also said Grover Norquist, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform, of which the center is a part, also will try to revoke the UAW subpoena.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who also was subpoenaed, said the governor didn't expect to be in Chattanooga on Monday.

Bob King, the UAW's president, has said the NLRB's rules call for the use of subpoenas "as part of the truth-seeking exercise."

The UAW's subpoenas also ask for a variety of documents and communications from the people and groups relating to the union, VW and government incentives from Jan. 1 to the present. The union cites interference by third-party groups and politicians.

In other developments:

• The NLRB upheld a request by some VW plant workers to intervene in the UAW appeal.

The National Right to Work Foundation, which is representing some of the workers, said the NLRB ruled the employees are entitled to defend the election results.

"The decision over whether or not to unionize is supposed to lie with the workers, which makes the attempt by the UAW to shut them out of this process all the more shameful," said Mark Mix, the foundation's president.

• A coalition of community groups is hosting a fundraiser for two former Chattanooga Volkswagen plant employees, Lon Gravett and Ed Hunter, who they say were injured while working on the factory's assembly line.

According to the coalition, health and safety issues related to production are a concern for many workers who were involved in the union organizing drive.

The fundraiser will be Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. at St. Marks Methodist Church in North Chattanooga. Supporting the effort is Chattanooga for Workers, a grass-roots community group, and Mercy Junction, a Christian ministry group.

Concerning the request for a probe by the two Democratic congressmen, they sent a joint letter to Haslam seeking information on activities by state officials ahead of the 712-626 vote by the workers.

"Recent reports suggest that the interference on the part of state officials may be even more troubling than we originally thought," said the letter from the congressmen.

In a news release, the two lawmakers said they wanted more information on "whether any Tennessee state officials conditioned, or threatened to condition, state aid to Volkswagen on the outcome of workers' efforts to establish a union and/or a works council at the Chattanooga plant."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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