Sen. Bob Corker talks about VW SUV, more reaction to UAW defeat

Authored By chloe.morrison

Sen. Bob Corker indicated that-now that the majority of Volkswagen workers have voted against representation by the United Auto Workers Union-an announcement that the company’s new SUV could be coming soon. 

“I have conversations [with German VW officials] set up for later this week. Hopefully-based on assurances I’ve been given-that will work out,” he said about a possible announcement that the vehicle will be made in Chattanooga.

“I think it’s a decision they want to get behind them very quickly,” he also said. 

Friday night at about 10 p.m., officials with Volkswagen and the UAW stood together before the press as a judge read the results of the three-day secret ballot election.

With an 89 percent participation rate, 1,338 workers voted in the election.

They voted against joining the union in a 712-626 vote.

In the days leading up to the election, Corker said that workers should vote against UAW representation and that-if they did-company leaders will announce that the new SUV will be built in Chattanooga.  

His comments drew criticism from state Democratic leaders and from UAW President Bob King, who said Corker’s comments were outrageous. 

“This was a great opportunity for America to have a works council and have a higher level of workplace involvement,” King said. 

Corker’s comments also prompted discussion about whether his comments would open the door for the election results to be challenged and whether there could be legal ramifications for his comments. 

Mark Guarino with The Christian Science Monitor reported that some labor experts have pondered whether his comments qualify as intimidation, which is illegal. 

Corker said he stands by his comments, which he wouldn’t have said without assurances they were factual. And history will tell if he was correct, he said. 

When asked if he was speaking on behalf of the company, he said, “I’m speaking on behalf of what I know, as a U.S. senator, who I would hope has the freedom to speak about things that I know.” 

CEO of Volkswagen AG Dr. Martin Winterkorn confirmed recently at the Detroit Auto Show that the auto manufacturer will make an SUV for the American market, but he didn’t say where the new product would be made.

Bloomberg and Reuters recently reported that the SUV would likely be made in Chattanooga, but that has not been confirmed, and there has been a lot of speculation on this issue in recent months. 

UAW officials might challenge the election results. 

Friday night, King said he didn’t immediately have the answers about whether there will be a challenge of the results, but leaders will look at their legal options. They will explore those quickly over the next few days, he said.

And UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams, who will likely be the next UAW president, said the union isn’t leaving Chattanooga. 

“It took seven years to organize Ford, and I will be around for at least another five,” he said Friday night.

Corker said that he isn’t opposed to a works council and that workers who “have to have a union” should organize their own instead of working with the UAW.

King praised Volkswagen and the idea of a works council Friday night, and VW President Frank Fischer said the vote wasn’t one against a works council. 

But it’s unclear how a German-style works council might be created moving forward. 

While Corker said Saturday that organizing at VW was about money and survival for the UAW, which he said has been on a “death spiral,” King said Friday night that the election was about bettering workers in the entire auto industry. 

“All autoworkers are going to suffer if we don’t come together,” he said. 

He said the industry is seeing an increasing use of temporary workers who are paid less than most permanent ones. And that hurts all auto wages, King said.

“The average wage of autoworkers is slipping because all workers aren’t together and unified,” he said. 

Eric Ibara, senior analyst at vehicle information source Kelley Blue Book, said that a union could have hurt Volkswagen’s chances to create more competitive pricing.

“One of the headwinds facing the company is the perception of uncompetitive prices,” he said in a statement. “A union shop in Chattanooga would have likely made it more difficult for VW’s management to get its costs under control. With the vote behind them, Volkswagen can now focus on designing and aggressively pricing the most competitive vehicles they can bring to market.”

Some Volkswagen employees who campaigned against the UAW expressed relief and excitement after the vote. 

VW worker John White, who was in favor of the union, said in a Facebook comment that the loss was a tough one, but not a landslide.

“We need less then 50 votes for a majority, so we’ll hold our heads high and work harder,” he said in the post. 

Leaders on both sides praised Volkswagen employees. 

Corker called the workers who organized against the UAW “heroic,” and Williams said officials are proud of those workers who stood up against intense outside pressure. 

“We hope this will start a larger discussion about workers’ right to organize,” Williams also said.