Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says UAW could hurt recruitment of VW suppliers

photo Bill Haslam

As workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant prepare to vote next week on joining the United Auto Workers labor union, Gov. Bill Haslam is making a last-minute pitch to the German auto manufacturer against unionization.

"We're trying to be really clear: I think that there are some ramifications to the vote in terms of our ability to attract other suppliers," Haslam, speaking to The Tennessean's editorial board, said on Wednesday. "When we recruit other companies, that comes up every time."

Haslam, along with Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, former mayor of Chattanooga, has been an outspoken critic of UAW's involvement in efforts to represent employees at what is the United States' only Vokswagen plant.

Haslam confirmed he's communicated to Volkswagen officials this week. "We've told the company that from our standpoint, we have concerns."

Volkswagen has asked the National Labor Relations Board for a three-day vote at its Chattanooga plant on Feb. 12-14. The plant, which makes the Passat sedan, has around 3,000 workers.

"Volkswagen respects this democratic right at all locations worldwide," the plant's vice president of human resources Sebastian Patta said this week.

German law gives labor representatives half the seats on the Volkswagen's supervisory board, where some members have raised concerns about the Chattanooga plant being alone among the company's large factories without formal labor representation.

Billed by UAW officials as the first of its kind in the U.S., the council would represent employees on issues issues such as working conditions and plant efficiency, but wouldn't negotiate wages and benefits. Because Tennessee is a right-to-work state, workers would not have to join the union to be represented.

Haslam, however, said UAW's entry into the state would be a negative. He pointed to ongoing discussions with Volkswagen as it weighs whether to expand in Chattanooga to bring a new SUV line online versus at its plant in Mexico, which would be cheaper to pull off. That plant also has a network of suppliers near its plant.

The company covets a similar arrangement in Chattanooga, he said. "My point would be that if UAW comes, we won't be as effective in helping you bring that supplier network."