U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., today accused the United Auto Workers union of trying to unfairly limit what state and federal lawmakers can say about organized labor during union elections through their appeal of the recent union election at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant.
The UAW has accused Corker and other Republican politicians of creating a climate of fear and intimidation in their anti-union comments before the election in which hourly employees at VW voted 712-626 against representation by the UAW. On Friday, the union asked the National Labor Relations Board to order a new election because of comments by Corker and others before the vote warning that union representation might hurt the plant and the community.
"Now this is going to the NLRB, something that the president controls," Corker said in an interview today on CNBC. "The question will be whether they will try to muzzle or keep a United States Senator, a governor or a state legislator from being able to express their views."
Corker said he and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, along with GOP legislative leaders in Nashville, were simply trying to tell workers their concerns about union representation to counter the UAW representatives who were allowed to make public presentations within the VW plant prior to the vote from Feb. 12 to Feb. 14.
"The fact is, if I cannot weigh in and say things that I know to be true and the experiences that I've had with the UAW and their path of job destruction in our community when something like this is being discussed, what can I do?" Corker asked today. "It's going to be an interesting debate to see if the National Labor Relations Board will hold to what it has done for 50 years that people like me can weigh in, or whether they will try to muzzle people like me who are trying to look out for their community."
Corker said that UAW supporters were telling workers at VW that a union was needed for the plant to be expanded and for a sports utility vehicle line to be added.
"Inside the plant with only the UAW there, they were spreading rumors rampantly that the only way that the plant was going to be expanded is if the union won the vote," Corker said. "In that context, with us having to come over the transom, we wanted to make sure people knew, in fact, that Chattanooga was the first location (for the SUV line) and if, in fact, people did vote the union out, Chattanooga was still going to be the place where the company expected to expand."
Corker said VW wage rates are already at or above what new workers at auto plants represented by the UAW are now paid under the union's two-tiered wage system negotiated during the most recent recession. Although long-term UAW members are paid more, new workers at UAW plants are paid comparable wages to what Volkswagen pays in Chattanooga. UAW dues would take from 2 to 2.5 hours of work a month from each worker that decides to join the UAW if the union represents the worker.
Corker said the community also is concerned with the UAW "because we know we're going to have tremendous difficulties with economic development down the road if the UAW gets a foothold there."
"They called me an outsider -- this Detroit-based identity that came into our community to poach from our workers," Corker said.