Ad campaigns heat up as union vote nears at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant

Ad campaigns heat up as union vote nears at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant

May 31st, 2019 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Staff file photo by Erin O. Smith / Volkswagen employees perform checks as vehicles move down the assembly line at the Chattanooga plant.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Advertising campaigns attacking or supporting a union at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant are heating up as the election at the factory nears.

Southern Momentum, which is urging VW workers to cast a "no" vote in the June 12-14 election, is hitting the United Auto Workers by saying the Detroit-based union is coming to Chattanooga "to take over" the plant and "look after their own interests."

"That's why the UAW is attacking Volkswagen, trying to strong-arm workers. ... Their record is clear. Broken promises. Lost jobs. Closed plants. And workers left behind," said a radio ad.

The ad called for sending "a strong message to this out-of-state special interest: this is our plant, our community and we're proud of it. Vote no on UAW."

But the Center for VW Facts has started a TV and digital campaign highlighting what it calls "Volkswagen's culture of corruption." One ad focuses on former VW Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn and his indictment in Germany and the United States over the diesel emission scandal.

"If VW workers cannot trust VW, they need a contract to force the company to do the right thing," said the ad.

Joe DiSano, a Michigan political consultant and UAW member overseeing VW Facts, said the union isn't funding the effort, but rather "business owners and small individuals." Spending is "already well past five digits," DiSano said.

"It's a question of trust," he said. "If [Volkswagen] sells faulty vehicles, they're going to lie to the employees."

Meanwhile, the Center for Union Facts, supported by Washington D.C. corporate lawyer Richard Berman, earlier launched billboards in Chattanooga and Detroit to "educate the public and hold the UAW accountable" for its own "culture of corruption."

The billboards located along heavily-trafficked routes in Chattanooga focuses on issues such as UAW officials who have admitted guilt in a federal corruption investigation, "thousands of auto jobs" lost on the UAW's watch and that union representatives "have ignored workplace abuses."

Also, the center has taken out newspaper ads and released a video calling into question the UAW's promise that it can "protect [workers] forever" given the loss of auto worker jobs. The center has set up a website, www.UAWInvestigation.com, where workers can find more information on the UAW scandal.

In addition, the UAW began airing a television spot featuring workers stating their case in a $25,000 ad buy. It features six VW workers — five men and one woman — with speaking roles saying "it's time" for a vote.

Workers individually pick up the theme of "it's time," with the spot later ending with the woman saying "it's time to put Chattanooga workers first."

Southern Momentum, which calls itself a grassroots group of VW Chattanooga workers who oppose the UAW, was re-formed after having operated during the first union vote at the VW plant in 2014.

Maury Nicely, a Chattanooga lawyer for Evans Harrison Hackett who represents Southern Momentum, said business interests provided much of the financial support in 2014. This time around, Nicely said he's not sure there needs to be a lot of funding due to the company's position. VW calls itself "neutral" though it supports continued "open dialogue directly."

Southern Momentum has criticized attacks on the company by "outsiders," including the Center for VW Facts.

But, DiSano said workers "need to know these facts" about the diesel scandal. He cited German prosecutors' recently investigating the CEO of Volkswagen's Porsche business Oliver Blume.

"Volkswagen is quickly running out of eyes to be blackened." DiSano said. "VW workers in Chattanooga need to understand the company just can't be trusted without a union contract."

The union lost the 2014 vote at VW by a 712 to 626 margin. In 2015, a smaller group of maintenance workers voted in favor of aligning with the UAW by 108-44.

But VW refused to bargain with the smaller unit, saying it preferred a vote by all production workers. The case was tied up before the National Labor Relations Board and in court for years before an agreement was reached last week for a new election.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.


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