Last month, Volkswagen workers gathered to vote on whether or not they would unionize their Chattanooga VW plant. After everything was tallied, the workers decided against unionizing. Now, however, there are reports of collusion between Republican lawmakers and anti-union groups.
AND, there may even be a paper trail.
News Channel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams writes, “Were hundreds of millions of your tax dollars offered to Volkswagen — and then pulled back — to try to keep the United Auto Workers out of Chattanooga?… documents leaked to NewsChannel 5 Investigates offer conclusive proof that the Haslam administration wanted a say in the automaker’s deal with organized labor — in exchange for $300 million in economic incentives to help VW expand its Chattanooga operations.”
Because of this report, there is now a full on investigation- known as “Project Trinity”- concerning the matter.
Of course, political officials are already backpedaling. Involved Republican representatives are scoffing at the claims, saying that the offer for incentives was withdrawn months before the vote even took place.
In a released statement, Clint Brewer, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said, “The offer did not preclude the creation of a works council or union representation as a condition for the incentives.” He also went on to say that the incentive offers had been withdrawn way back in January before the Union vote was even discussed.
However, according to NewsChannel 5, the documents say otherwise. Supposedly, evidence of collusion appears in a string of e-mails between anti-union groups, members of the staffs of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Senator Bob Corker, and other public officials. Unfortunately, the full documents have not yet been released to the public, but there is a lot of evidence that can lead us to wonder why exactly the union vote didn’t pass.
Let’s take a closer look:
1. In the days leading up to the vote, it seemed that the unionization was more than likely going to happen. Just check out this quote from Detroit Free Press writer, Brent Snavely: “After an organizing campaign that began about two years ago, this week’s vote is the UAW’s best opportunity to win support at a foreign-owned assembly plant since Honda began building cars in Ohio more than 30 years ago.”
2. The workers wanted it to happen. Unionizing would allow them to negotiate for better pay, work hours, and work conditions.
3. Establishing a union that would work with a works council was something that Volkswagen actually wanted, as well. This is how their European factories operate. Chattanooga Volkswagen CEO Frank Fischer says, “Our works councils [which can only exist with a union under U.S. Law] are key to our success and productivity. It is a business model that helped to make Volkswagen the second-largest car company in the world.”
Hell, even Harvard Law experts recognized the benefits of the works council/ union. Paul C. Weiler says, “There are three major advantages of councils. You’re forced to consider in your decision making process the effect on the employees in advance…this avoids costly mistakes. Second, works councils will in the final run support the company. They will take into account the pressing needs of the company more than a trade union can, on the outside. And third, works councils explain and defend certain decisions of the company towards the employees. Once decisions are made, they are easier to implement.”
So, why would this unionization not pass?
Could it be that Tennessee’s Republicans were afraid that allowing a union to appear could dissuade other businesses from setting up shop in the state? And maybe (if NewsChannel 5’s reports prove to be true), they were willing to do anything to stop this from happening?
House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner thinks it’s true; he says, “Looks like to me they put a gun to [Volkswagen’s] head and said, ‘Look, this is what we are going to give you if you do it our way and we are going to jerk it away if you don’t.’”