As the appeal of Volkswagen's union vote extends at least into April, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday the carmaker likely won't finalize bringing a new vehicle to the Chattanooga plant until the election dispute is settled.
"We had a VW representative in our office last week. They made us aware that until the clouds disappear, a decision likely won't be made," he said after speaking to the downtown Chattanooga Rotary Club.
The Tennessee Republican said that an April 7 date for a National Labor Relations Board hearing over the United Auto Workers election appeal is "tentative" and could be pushed back to April 21. The NLRB, on its website, said the hearing on the appeal is slated for April 7 at 9 a.m. at the Hamilton County Courthouse before an administrative law judge.
But Corker said that date may move and, ultimately, the election appeal will be considered by the labor board in Washington, D.C.
The former Chattanooga mayor said that continuing to stretch out the appeal process could impact VW and an announcement about producing a new sport utility vehicle in the German automaker's Tennessee plant.
"As things drag on, you never know what's going to happen," he said. "If something looks like it's going to happen, you shake hands and make it happen. I know it will be unsettled for a period of time, and therefore what happens in the future will be unsettled for a period of time."
Corker said that, as of Thursday, VW has indicated it's waiting for the UAW appeal to run its course.
VW has said Chattanooga is the front-runner to make the new SUV over operations in Mexico, and that the company wants to put the vehicle on the market in 2016.
Last month, VW workers voted 712 to 626 against aligning with the UAW. The union is seeking a revote, saying in a complaint to the NLRB that outside third-party interference, including statements by Corker and other public officials, tainted the election.
Corker said during the election that VW would award the Chattanooga factory another model if the UAW was rejected. State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said state incentives for an expansion at the Chattanooga plant will have a tough time getting legislative approval if the union won recognition.
UAW President Bob King said the NLRB tries to create a situation where workers make a choice without threats or intimidation.
"Sen. Corker entered into the fray just to intimidate workers," he said.
Corker, meanwhile, said the UAW is trying to muzzle public officials.
"The National Labor Relations Board soon will have to decide whether to follow years of precedent and let the vote of the workers stand--or whether it will try to muzzle elected officials and prevent them from weighing in on issues of critical importance to the communities they represent," he said in a Wall Street Journal column.
Maury Nicely, an attorney for the anti-UAW group Southern Momentum, said Thursday that his group has been granted permission to intervene in the case and the NLRB hasn't responded yet to a UAW request to appeal that decision.
"At this point, we're in the case," he said. "Unless the NLRB changes something, the hearing officer will move forward [with the April hearing] as it's set up."
After the hearing, the NLRB said that the administrative law judge will prepare a report containing findings of fact, including resolutions of the credibility of witnesses, and recommendations to the Board as to the disposition of the UAW petition for a new election.
Within 14 days from the date of the issuance of the report, any of the parties may file exceptions with the board in Washington, D.C. If no exceptions are filed, the NRLB may decide the matter upon the record or may make another disposition of the case, the Board said.
In addition to the NLRB appeal, VW workers opposed to the UAW and backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation are suing VW and the union in federal court to block the carmaker from providing organizing assistance to the UAW in the event of a revote.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.