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Automaker—but not the GOP—fine with union

Amid threats from Republican lawmakers, a Tennessee auto maker plant may unionize.
An employee at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., works on a Passat sedan on July 31, 2012.
An employee at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., works on a Passat sedan on July 31, 2012.

Tennessee auto workers at a Chattanooga Volkswagen Plant will cast their final votes in a secret ballot over whether to join the United Auto Workers Union on Friday.

Volkswagen has welcomed the idea that a union could result in a German-style "works council," where union-member elected workers meet with plant leaders to decide work rules. They've already agreed that the UAW would collectively bargain for benefits and wages, while work rules would be decided by the "works council."

“Our works councils are key to our success and productivity,” Volkswagen's chief executive Frank Fischer told the New York Times. “Our plant in Chattanooga has the opportunity to create a uniquely American works council, in which the company would be able to work cooperatively with our employees and ultimately their union representatives, if the employees decide they wish to be represented by a union.”

But anti-union conservatives—who say unions’ slow growth and job creation—aren’t going down without a fight.

The state’s Republican Sen. Bob Corker—who brought Volkswagen to Chattanooga early in his career as the mayor—along with a group of conservative activists has been fighting the move and celebrating the South’s recent push towards right-to-work, union-resistant policies as key to the South's success.

Corker recently said that if the plant rejected the union’s offer, the car maker would bring the production of its new SUV—and another 1,500 jobs—to the town.

The automaker has denied any connection, but the statement added additional uncertainty ahead of the vote. But Corker is standing by it.

"After all these years and my involvement with Volkswagen, I would not have made the statement I made yesterday without being confident it was true and factual," he told Reuters, but he wouldn’t disclose the source of the information.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslman suggested last week that a unionized plant might scare away other businesses.

“I think that there are some ramifications to the vote in terms of our ability to attract other suppliers,” Haslam told the editorial board of The Tennessean. “When we recruit other companies, that comes up every time.”

State Sen. Bo Watson, who represents part of a Chattanooga suburb, said the Republican-controlled legislature might vote against plant expansions if the plant were to unionize.

The anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is even getting into the fight, protesting that union efforts will turn the region into the next Detroit.