Less than a week before a crucial union vote at a Chattanooga auto plant, Governor Bill Haslam sent a letter to the facility's chief, expressing his opposition to unionization and questioning the fairness of the vote.
Starting Wednesday, February 12, close to 1,500 workers at Volkswagen's Hamilton County plant will start casting ballots. The results could provide a first step in establishing worker representation through the United Auto Workers union. Forming a union foothold in Tennessee would be a big victory for the UAW, but detrimental to Tennessee's long-range business recruitment strategies, state officials have said.
This week, Governor Haslam sent a letter to VW Chattanooga CEO Frank Fischer. In it, he questioned the lead-up to next week's vote, saying company policy allowing UAW to campaign in the plant, but not anti-union groups, is unfair.
"This distinction favoring the UAW at the expense of employees opposed to union representation is of concern to us," wrote Haslam. The letter was released to the Associated Press.
On Thursday, Haslam spoke to the Tennessee Press Association. His remarks included a reiteration of his opposition to UAW involvement at the VW plant. Haslam has said growing union influence at businesses and factories based in the state could scare off corporations that want to relocate or build facilities in Tennessee.
If approved, the union vote wouldn't establish a full-fledged UAW stronghold in Chattanooga. Plant leaders are looking toward the formation of a "works council" that would represent employees in discussions with management. Works councils are a staple of European factories, but nearly unheard of in the United States.
When asked why he was getting so involved in the workings of a private company, Haslam was resolute.
"I’ve been fairly vocal in a way that some people have said why is it your business?" Haslam said. "I think it is our business in the state of Tennessee. We have a considerable investment in that plant. The state of Tennessee put a whole lot of money in that plant."
U.S. Senator Bob Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga, also opposes UAW involvement at the Volkswagen plant. But the vote itself was in the hands of the workers, he said, and he would withhold his commentary until after the ballots are counted.