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U.S. Senatorial candidate Marsha Blackburn speaks during an appearance at East Ridge Motors on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in East Ridge, Tenn. Blackburn appeared at the campaign event along with U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and representatives from the Family Research Council.
Tennessee has prospered because it is a right-to-work state with no income tax.

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn on Thursday weighed into a possible new union vote at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant, saying that "we don't need union bosses in Detroit telling Tennessee what's best for our workers."

The United Auto Workers answered back, saying Chattanooga employees "just want to have the same thing every VW worker has and even Sen. Blackburn's constituents in [the General Motors plant in] Spring Hill have — the right to sit down and bargain with management."

Also, VW has shared "a special communication" with its Chattanooga workers, saying the company was surprised by the timing of the filing last week seeking a union election, that VW will hold information sessions in coming weeks, and it will "remain neutral throughout this process."

The moves come after a National Labor Relations Board hearing in Chattanooga on Wednesday that could lead to a third UAW election at the German automaker's plant since 2014.

An NLRB administrative hearing officer gave VW and UAW attorneys a week to submit legal briefs and entertained potential election dates in May should the board rule in the union's favor.

Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, tweeted that Tennessee has prospered as a right-to-work state with no income tax.

She said that UAW attempts to unionize the Chattanooga plant "will harm its workers," noting that the company in January unveiled a new $800 million investment to make electric vehicles and hire another 1,000 employees at the factory.

Brian Rothenberg of the UAW International said that Volkswagen made $19 billion in profit last year while Chattanooga workers got 50 cent raises because they could not negotiate.

It's not about Washington politics, or people's personal political agendas, it's about Chattanooga workers having the right to vote….

"Where was Sen. Blackburn when Chattanooga workers have had to scramble to arrange child care because of last-minute overtime notifications?" he asked.

Rothenberg also asked "why would any politician not want Chattanooga workers to be treated the same and be able to bargain as every VW worker in the world and even Tennesseans' in Spring Hill do? Why, Senator?"

Meanwhile, a Washington, D.C.-based interest group has taken out full-page ads in several newspapers, including the Times Free Press, calling attention to guilty pleas by former UAW officials in a corruption probe.

The Center for Union Facts also launched a website, UAWInvestigation.com, where the group offers more information.

Charlyce Bozzello, the center's communications director, said the group set up the website "to show not just the federal investigation but everything going on in the UAW."

The ad in the Chattanooga newspaper was aimed at VW employees "to make sure workers they know what they'd be in for with the UAW."

She said the center, which is associated with the management firm of businessman Richard Berman, is a nonprofit that "fights for transparency and accountability in labor unions."

Rothenberg said the center is "a well-known outside anti-union fringe organization whose leader has even led a sister organization attacking Mothers Against Drunk Drivers."

"It's not about Washington politics, or peoples' personal political agendas, it's about Chattanooga workers having the right to vote, to have the same voice at the bargaining table as every other VW worker," he said.

Rothenberg said the UAW has been "saddened and frustrated" by what has occurred related to the former union officials and worked with the government in the investigation while taking steps to change policies on issues, none of which involved dues money.

"But Chattanooga workers are the ones that don't have the same rights as all other VW workers to bargain," he said. "And it's Chattanooga workers who should be allowed to make this decision for themselves and would be at that bargaining table."

At the same time, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., told the Chattanooga Rotary Club on Thursday that the state does better without a strong union presence.

"I really think Volkswagen is better served and the suppliers are better served with the employers and employees working that out on their own," he said. "I just think that some of the labor union tactics have been very disadvantageous to industries in other parts of the world. That's why they're here. I would rather see a situation where, this is their choice, we're going to remain union free."

Rothenberg said that "politicians did this last time." UAW officials said last week that they hoped the focus of a union election would be on the VW plant and its workforce and not on outsiders.

During the 2014 election, there was "a lot of outside interference," said Steve Cochran, president of UAW Local 42 in Chattanooga.

Then U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a Chattanooga resident who just ended two terms, and former Gov. Bill Haslam were accused by the UAW of abusing their power, which they denied.

Corker said this week that history has shown that "the effort we put into place to cause VW to be where it is today led to the expansion taking place." He talked about an announcement VW made shortly after the 2014 election in which the company said it would invest $900 million to build what has become the Atlas SUV.

If there's another election, Corker said, he plans to have no involvement.

"It was very important at that time that I was," he said. "The workers out there will decide the future. That's for them to determine."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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