TN Legislature Overtly Threatens VW Workers Planning to Unionize

State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson and Republican House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick took Tennessee’s anti-union efforts to a new level yesterday when they held a press conference threatening to block future state subsidies to the Volkswagen plant where workers are voting to unionize. From their press conference:

Should the workers at Volkswagen choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers, then I believe any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate.  The workers that will be voting, need to know all of the potential consequences, intended and unintended, should they choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers.

1,600 workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee are preparing to vote on unionization this week. The company has remained neutral, as promised, and even invited the United Auto Workers — the would-be union — to present their case to the workers in person. It is the most important union vote the South has seen in quite some time, which means the resistance from politicians looking to further their careers and companies hoping to avoid a better-represented workforce has been extraordinarily resolute.

In the leadup to the vote, the town of Chattanooga has been blitzed with anti-union radio spots and 13 anti-UAW billboards from The Center for Worker Freedom, an anti-union arm of Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. The billboards seek to tie the UAW to President Obama who received only 39 percent of the vote in Tennessee in 2012. They claim a union will turn Chattanooga into Detroit.  

But in true ‘you can’t make this stuff up’ fashion, the right-wing propaganda was misspelled.

Republican Tennessee Senator Bob Corker had previously promised to “allow the workers to decide,” to keep himself out of the anti-union circus. However, he broke that promise, calling a press conference in which he urged workers not to join the union and hurled veiled threats against the economy if workers freely decided to unionize.

In the video below, workers at the Chattanooga plant talk about the effect that outside interference has on them. A perfect synopsis of the effect of outside anti-union groups comes in the comments of VW worker Lauren Feinauer, who said:

Tennessee politicians are “essentially saying that if you unionize, it’s gonna hurt your economy. Why? Because I’m gonna make sure it does. I hope people see it for the underhanded threat that it is.”

The outside presence is having the intended effect of turning people away from the process, according to In These Times magazine.  Is support of the union worth the divisive negative reaction it is receiving?

Volkswagen worker Michael Cantrell, a supporter of the UAW, believes that this type of political posturing goes too far. “The billboards, advertising and press activities by those not even from our community leave a bad taste in my mouth,” Cantrell wrote in the statement put out by the UAW. “We also placed our trust in elected officials, but they’ve chosen to put their own political interests first and they are interfering in our election too.”

Union supporters fear that the outside interference is beginning to hurt the likelihood of a union victory.

“Right now my feeling is that we are winning but the [anti-union workers] along with their outside help is turning some [people] away that once were supporters” pro-UAW Volkswagen worker Wayne Cliett tells Working In These Times. “I believe we have the votes, [we] just have to make sure everyone of our supporters votes. I have a good feeling about the outcome and at the same time, I’m a little nervous.”

To be nervous in nature is natural. This is a major step for the workers at the VW plant. Still, with VW’s neutrality, there should not be hurdles this high to unionization. Rather, the process should be simple, says UAW President, Bob King:

“We’ve said that when workers have a free, open choice, they’ll choose union representation every time,” UAW International president Bob King told Salon last week. “And I think VW Chattanooga will prove that."

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