Tenn. GOP pulls out the stops to fight unionization

Bob Corker
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) speaks to reporters before going into the Senate Chamber to vote, on October 12, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Andrew Burton/getty
The employees at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., are voting this week on whether to join the United Automobile Workers union, and at first blush, it wouldn’t seem especially controversial. Many of the workers understandably welcome the opportunity to unionize, and the plant’s owners don’t have a problem with that at all. Indeed, Volkswagen executives are accustomed to working with organized labor at its facilities elsewhere.
 
So, if workers and management are on the same page over unionization, why has this quietly become a major national story? Because Republican policymakers have decided both the workers and the plant owners are wrong – and the GOP officials are desperate to intervene.
State Senator Bo Watson, who represents a suburb of Chattanooga, warned on Monday that if VW’s workers voted to embrace the U.A.W., the Republican-controlled Legislature might vote against approving future incentives to help the plant expand…. A loss of such incentives, industry analysts say, could persuade Volkswagen to award production of a new S.U.V. to its plant in Mexico instead of to the Chattanooga plant, which currently assembles the Passat.
 
At a news conference on Tuesday, United States Senator Bob Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga and a Republican, also called on VW employees to reject the union. He called it “a Detroit-based organization” whose key to survival was to organize plants in the South.
 
“We’re concerned about the impact,” Mr. Corker said. “Look at Detroit.”
That seemed like a pretty cheap shot – by the senator’s reasoning, Detroit’s crises were labor’s fault, and all unions invite crises in all cases – but Corker wasn’t done.
 
Yesterday, the Republican senator claimed he had secret knowledge of a plan to reward the Chattanooga VW plant with a new product line – but only if workers reject the plan to join the UAW union. This is the exact opposite of what the company has said, but Corker said he’s been “assured” that his secret tip is true.
 
Asked about Corker’s brazen attempts to intimidate workers, National Labor Relations Board expert Kenneth G. Dau-Schmidt, a professor of labor at the University of Indiana-Bloomington, told Reuters, “I’m really kind of shocked at Corker’s statement.” Another labor expert, Harley Shaiken of the University of California-Berkeley, suggested the senator’s claims may even be illegal.
 
What in the world is pushing local and federal Tennessee Republicans to such extremes?
 
The contemporary GOP faces some notable divisions. Republicans no longer necessarily agree with one another on foreign policy, health care policy, monetary policy, or the degree to which to emphasize social issues. There are stark divisions between Tea Party Republicans and the Republican establishment. The GOP’s libertarian wing is a frequent source of consternation.
 
But if we were to make a list of issues on which there is broad, unifying agreement within today’s Republican Party, a deep hatred for labor unions would probably be near the top, especially in the South.
 
With this in mind, the VW plant in Chattanooga isn’t just a proxy fight, it’s also seen as a scary domino for the GOP’s fiercest opponents of unionization.
This week’s vote, which will run for three days beginning on Wednesday, is being closely watched because it could make the Volkswagen factory the first foreign-owned auto assembly plant to be unionized in the traditionally anti-union South. […]
 
Labor experts say a U.A.W. victory could create momentum to unionize the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala., and the BMW plant in Spartanburg, S.C.
And so everyone from the Tennessee’s Republican governor to Tennessee’s Republican senators to Tennessee’s Republican state lawmakers are pulling out all the stops.
 
And they’re getting some help from Grover Norquist and his outfit’s latest project, something called the “Center for Worker Freedom.” The conservative outfit has put up 13 billboards in Chattanooga, condemning the United Auto Workers for having supported President Obama, who rescued the nation’s auto industry in 2009.
 
Some of the billboards say UAW has helped “elect liberal politicans.”
 
That’s right, the anti-union activists spelled “politicians” wrong.
 

Bob Corker, Labor and Tennessee

Tenn. GOP pulls out the stops to fight unionization