The ongoing drama that is the possible unionization of the Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga has just had an enormous twist - Republican Senator Bob Corker said yesterday during the first of a three-day, secret-ballot vote at the factory, that he has been "assured" by VW that if the Chattanooga plant votes against UAW unionization, it will be awarded production of a new mid-size crossover, a model we've speculated will be a production version of the CrossBlue Concept.
"I've had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga," Corker said, according to Yahoo! News.
Now, ignoring the fact that Corker's history with the UAW is adversarial at best and venomous at worse, it should be pointed out that the Senator's statements run counter to everything VW has said about unionization up until this point. In fact, back in October, we reported on allegations by Chattanooga factory workers that a senior member of VW said the plant might not get the new crossover if it didn't organize. And just last month, we reported that the Chattanooga factory was in the lead to get the new CUV. So you can understand why we're a little surprised by the boldness of the Senator's proclamation.
The Chattanooga factory, meanwhile, has issued its own statement on the matter, with Frank Fischer, the plant's president and CEO saying, "There is no connection between our Chattanooga employees' decision about whether to be represented by a union and the decision about where to build a new product for the U.S. market."
Corker's statement brings up a number of questions, not the least of which involve the continued legitimacy of the current vote. According to Kenneth G. Dau-Schmidt, a professor of labor at the University of Indiana and an expert on the National Labor Relations Board who spoke to Yahoo! News, Corker's statements "would be grounds to set the election aside and have to run it all over again at a later date" because the interference could be considered illegal under federal labor laws.
Corker's statements could invalidate the current vote and may even be illegal, labor experts said.
Based on Dau-Schmidt's comments, it almost seems like Corker could be deliberately trying to invalidate this vote in favor of a new one at a later date. That could be the case if the Senator has enough reason to believe that the plant will go to the UAW, as holding a new vote at a later date could give anti-union forces more time to campaign amongst workers. That's total speculation on our part, but it might explain Corker's statements.
Meanwhile, other experts are questioning the legality of Corker's statement. "The Senator's comments amount to economic intimidation that undermines the whole nature of union representation elections," Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at the University of California-Berkeley told Yahoo! "If the senator's statement doesn't violate the letter of the law, it certainly violates the spirit of the law."
As we've been doing throughout this saga, we'll stay with this one, and will update you when any additional information comes out.