Bob Corker won the endorsement of organized labor when he ran for Chattanooga mayor in 2001, but union leaders Monday night denounced Corker for repeated criticisms of the United Auto Workers in his current job as U.S. senator.
Gary Watkins, president of the Chattanooga Area Labor Council, said Corker "is just wrong" in his claim that the UAW would hurt Volkswagen and the community.
"These are good people (at the UAW) who are here to help people, but I think they've been given a bum wrap in a lot of ways," Watkins said. "We don't censor free speech, but when you have a bully pulpit like a U.S. senator is given, you have to rein in your power and watch what you say. I can't imagine our founding fathers having any vision of anyone being able to do what he (Corker) has done."
Larry Crim, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, told a Labor Unity Dinner Monday night that Corker misused his Senate office to encourage VW workers to vote against UAW representation. He also criticized Republican legislators for threatening to withhold assistance to VW if the plant is unionized.
"It's an improper thing to do for a United States senator to try to bring the power of his office and the power of these other state offices to say that your taxes will either be provided as an incentive or withdrawn as a penalty based upon who workers decide to associate with at their work site," Crim said. "It seems clear that there was an overreach here and I stand with labor on that."
Corker and state GOP leaders urged workers to reject the UAW, which they said would hurt business recruitment in Tennessee. But Gov. Bill Haslam and others said later that they would try to help Volkswagen grow and expand regardless of whether the plant is ultimately unionized.
The UAW is asking for another vote after the workers voted 712 to 626 against the union during voting Feb. 12 to Feb. 14.