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A top House Democrat is demanding copies of correspondence between Gov. Bill Haslam and Volkswagen officials, saying he has learned the governor may have offered additional incentives to the German automaker in an effort to head off unionization efforts at VW's Chattanooga assembly plant.
Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he's "concerned" Haslam is "possibly interfering with [Volkswagen's] internal decisions."
If true, Turner said, "it's almost like he's trying to bribe them if they don't bring the union in."
"We're asking for all correspondence where [Haslam] may have offered some type of incentive if Volkswagen does not do a works council," the Nashville Democrat said.
Haslam spokesman David Smith said the administration has Turner's requests and is "working on them." He also said "we don't talk about projects before they're announced."
The Chattanooga plant is competing with Puebla, Mexico, for a sport utility vehicle line.
Clint Brewer, assistant commissioner for the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said, "We don't comment on unannounced projects."
VW officials also declined comment.
Haslam, a Republican, and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., have repeatedly urged Volkswagen to resist unionization efforts by the United Auto Workers at the VW plant. The state offered hundreds of millions in cash and tax incentives to attract the company to Chattanooga.
Haslam told Times Free Press reporters and editors last week the plant has worked fine without a union. Without offering any names, Haslam claimed that "several folks recently, and not just people looking at this part of the state, say if UAW comes there, that would dampen our enthusiasm for Tennessee."
"I think they feel like they've chosen Tennessee ... for one reason, because it's a right-to-work state."
He said the state's business recruitment efforts are already being hindered.
VW and UAW say they're talking about a German-style collaborative "works council" arrangement.
A works council is a framework in which plant managers and union representatives work collaboratively on work rules, job protection and layoff procedures. It would fall to the union to negotiate on wages.
Turner said he's surprised at Haslam's efforts to discourage unionization at the VW plant.
"I don't know if a governor's ever gone into a private company and advised them not to unionize or make any kind of private decision," he said. "You talk about socialism. That's never been done. Just because he has a personal distaste for unions?"
Turner's Open Records Act request letter seeks copies of public records "that concern any correspondence between the Executive Branch of the State of Tennessee and Volkswagen. Included in the Executive Branch are Governor Haslam, his staff, and the following departments: Labor, Economic and Community Development, Revenue, and Finance and Administration.
"To narrow the scope of inquiry, I am only asking for correspondence that pertains to any incentives for Volkswagen or the discussion of unionization of current or future Volkswagen employees," Turner says in the letter.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.