In the run-up to the vote to allow the UAW to organize workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant, there were accusations of shady dealings and general thuggery. Most of those accusations were aimed at labor activists, but new documents show that those accusations should have been made at the politicians.
As the vote on Feb. 15th neared, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam was strongly against the first major bastion of automotive union representation in the American South. The vote ultimately failed. That much is already public knowledge.
What wasn't public knowledge was that he offered VW $300,000,000 in economic incentives in the months before, along with veiled threats to pull them if the car company didn't go Haslam's way, according to confidential documents obtained by local Tennessee TV station NewsChannel 5.
Ultimately, as the vote drew closer and VW's participation began to appear imminent, Haslam's administration formally pulled the incentives.
And the whole time the offer was on the table, Governor Haslam denied that it even existed.
That a Tennessee Republican politician was against the Volkswagen UAW vote isn't news. United States Senator from Tennessee Bob Corker (Republican - obviously) infamously promised that VW would expand production at the Chattanooga plant if only workers voted against union representation, a charge the German automaker emphatically denied. And while Corker hinted in interviews at the time that some incentive deal was in the air, he claimed not to have anything to do with the direct dealings between the Haslam administration and VW, saying (emphasis mine):
"I know you know the state has concerns about any kind of incentives in the event the company — and I'm not part of that. That's a separate government, as you know. But they have concerns about the UAW."
Meanwhile, NewsChannel 5 obtained documents that showed Senator Corker's chief of staff was emailing directly with out-of-state anti-union organizers, and those emails were shared with Haslam administration officials that were working directly on the VW incentives.
"Not part of that," indeed.
But the real big news here is that a sitting governor turned down the chance to offer a major manufacturer huge economic incentives to add jobs in his state, out of fear that those jobs would be, terrifyingly, unionized. The calculation was that something over 1,000 unionized jobs are worse that zero non-unionized jobs.
If you're on the pro-labor side of things, you could see this (as Tennessee Democrats are) as a move made out of retribution for political enemies, over the best interests of the citizens that he is supposed to lead. If you're on the anti-labor side, than this is a calculation that ultimately makes sense.
No matter which side you're on, the big question is: Did the governor lie about it? The answer appears to be: Yeah, probably.
And since VW's own labor head still won't support expansion of its US plant without a union, it looks like Haslam traded the future of organized labor in the South in exchange for more jobs.
Photo credit: AP