Did Tennessee Governor Haslam Violate Worker’s Rights?

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and other Republican state lawmakers are charged with  trying to prevent Volkswagen workers from obtaining union representation by threatening to withhold state aid for the now stalled expansion of the Chattanooga plant where the Passat is assembled.

“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,”Phil Williams asks in a hard-hitting NewsChannel 5 piece whose ultimate outcome could drag anti-union Senator Bob Corker into the mire.

“For months, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has denied any connection. But 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,” said Williams.

The smoking gun comes further down in the segment.

“But while the state refused to give the documents to the Nashville Democrat, NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained a summary from last August for what the Haslam administration called “Project Trinity.”

“Marked confidential, it offers Volkswagen incentives of some $300 million — in exchange for 1,350 full-time jobs at a new SUV facility.

“The catch?

“The incentives … are subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.”

The state cancelled the incentives just before votes were being cast.

“The documents also show that Tennessee elected officials were coordinating with national anti-union groups who have refused to disclose their funding,” said Bob King, president of the UAW.

“Looks like to me they put a gun to their 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,’ ” said Tennessee House Democratic Mike Turner.

“That Haslam and other Tennessee officials used the power of their elected office to intimidate workers into voting against representation isn’t surprising,” said King. They receive millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the same anti-union groups associated with the Koch Brothers and Grover Norquist. These groups will stop at nothing to ensure that working Americans hang on by just a thread, grateful merely to have a job, with no real opportunity to improve wages, benefits or health and safety.”

“But where does this “my way or the highway” approach to using our tax dollars stop,” asks King? “Would a governor such as Haslam offer taxpayer-funded incentives to a business, but only with the condition that it doesn’t implement certain environmental measures because the Koch Brothers oppose them? Would a state official offer incentives to a business to relocate, but only if it agrees to hire only people from a certain ethnic group or a certain gender?”

While King is hardly neutral in this fight, it seems like the GOP (for Go Away Union People?) has some explaining to do.

About Kenneth Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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