Pam's Points: Chattanooga's got poverty, but still no VW SUV

Pam's Points: Chattanooga's got poverty, but still no VW SUV

July 9th, 2014 in Opinion Times

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To learn more about Poverty-Free Chattanooga and how to participate in the group's task force, contact Chattanooga Organized for Action at info@chattaction.org or visit the group's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/povertyfreechatt.

City's unfortunate ranking

Finally - something we're not dead last in (but wish we were): Chattanooga ranks 12th in the nation for economic inequality out of the top 100 markets for the ratio of lower ­income households to high-­income households.

For every one household earning $200,000 or more, there are 20 earning less than $50,000.

With 27 percent of the city's residents living below the poverty line, Chattanooga's poverty rate is nearly double the national average. And it gets worse. Two-thirds of the poor homes are headed by women and 42 percent of the city's children live in poverty - twice the statewide rate.

Right here in River City - home of the Gig, Outdoor Chattanooga and entrepreneur central.

Talk about some disconnect.

So what to do? Well, some things are happening that you and we and all of us can be part of.

Chattanooga Organized for Action this week kicked of "Poverty-Free Chattanooga."

Throughout the summer, Poverty-Free Chattanooga will be hosting additional planning meetings as well as community awareness and poverty simulations workshops.

The group also will collect and analyze ideas and look for ways to build on things others in the community already are doing, like galvanizing the community to elect a strong, energized and aware Board of Education, supporting Mayor Andy Berke's Baby University to help young moms and dads learn proper parenting skills, and supporting the reading programs of the United Way of Greater Chattanooga.

Where's the SUV?

While we wait for Volkswagen to decided where to build its new SUV - the one we hope we're going to get - U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said here this week he's looking "very closely" at legislation that could permit companies like Volkswagen to create works council-type labor boards for employees without a union.

Looking closely at labor boards legislation introduced in Congress in the mid-1990s which he might improve upon but still not committing to any such future legislation, Corker continues to maintain that VW will eventually bring the SUV production here.

His certainty that the SUV would come here is the same confidence he espoused in February - at least it was until just hours before the Volkswagen-UAW vote, which then seemed the only technicality missing to bring a works council to the plant. But as the vote drew nigh, Corker said an SUV announcement could be expected in two weeks if - emphasis on if - the Chattanooga VW workers voted to reject the union.

They did. The workers cast 712 "no" votes and 626 "yes" votes.

Here we are now, headed into mid-July, and still there's no "SUV is coming here" announcement.

First Corker and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and other state officials blamed the delay on bringing a second auto assembly line and at least 1,000 new jobs here on a UAW appeal when the union claimed Corker and other anti-union Tennessee politicians interfered with the election after VW invited the UAW in to set up a U.S.-legal works council.

But as it turned out, a "yes" vote likely would have stopped the local expansion, and the blame would have been heaped wholly on Tennessee politicians. That's because documents outlining the agreements over $300 million in state economic incentives read like this: "The incentives ... are subject to works council discussions between the state of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the state of Tennessee."

Once the documents turned up, pre-vote comments made by our own state Sen. Bo Watson made much more sense - at least politically. Watson said just days before the union vote, "Should the workers at Volkswagen choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers, then I believe any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate." He even called Volkswagen's UAW/works council effort "un-American."

According to news reports after the documents emerged, Haslam withdrew the incentives offer as workers prepared to vote.

That "no" vote was needed to give our politicians some cover.

So, Sen. Corker: Where is that SUV?