Readers will remember that last week, workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee held a vote on whether or not to join the UAW. VW, a German carmaker, currently has a model that is much more labor-friendly than American car manufacturers. In fact, VW and much of Germany employs something called a “Works Council” which, in essence, gives labor representatives on the Executive Board at major corporations.
Following last week’s vote NOT to join the UAW, which was marred by politics on the right and the left, but especially Tennesee U.S. Senator Bob Corker, a major member of Volkswagon’s Works Council see’s the company cooling on the idea of more plants in the South:
I can imagine fairly well that another VW factory in the United States, provided that one more should still be set up there, does not necessarily have to be assigned to the south again. … If co-determination isn’t guaranteed in the first place, we as workers will hardly be able to vote in favor [of another VW plant in the southern US].
So states like Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana etc, which aren’t usually described as having the most robust of economies to begin with, can thank United States Senator Bob Corker for that.
Labor leaders, Democrats, and members of VW’s board are all upset that Corker basically lied a couple of days before the election, first saying that it will hurt jobs and hours at the plant if they choose to unionize, and then saying that he “has assurances” that, if the workers opted out of the UAW, the company would move production of its mid-sized SUV to the factory, thereby increasing hours and jobs in the community.
Since the vote, VW has made statements that, in fact, the decision of where to assemble the cars has “nothing to do” with the outcome of the vote, and as we saw above, some members of the board are certainly not looking at the vote as a positive.
Now, attention should turn to the reaction of the NLRB. As we all know, influencing workers before a union election is a federal crime. We also know that Corker erroneously told reporters that if voters pick his preferred outcome, they will see certain benefits, which they probably will not. That looks like an attempt to knowingly influence voters prior to a union vote, it happened on the national stage with cameras rolling, and Volkswagen themselves are telling us this will hurt our economy.
As California Democratic U.S. Congressman George Miller, a longtime ally of labor, said, “Volkswagen had committed to not interfering with workers’ freedom of choice. But that did not stop the Senator from interfering. He didn’t just issue his views: he issued a promise of benefits if they voted ‘no’ and a thinly veiled threat if they voted ‘yes.’ It is regrettable that a foreign corporation respected Tennessee workers’ rights more than the workers’ own elected senator did.”
Unfortunately, as a third party, Corker is likely exempt from criminal charges. The NLRB does, though, have the power to declare the Chattanooga vote tainted, and mandate another.