Citing new evidence that the Haslam administration attempted to improperly influence a recent union election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, lawyers for the United Auto Workers have filed an extensive supplement to a petition asking that the election results be thrown out.
In a five-page filing with the National Labor Relations Board, the UAW cited internal state documents and emails that union lawyers claim show that the state threatened to withdraw $300 million in promised incentives to Volkswagen of America if the vote to unionize was successful.
The petition and the supplement will be the subject of a hearing before an administrative law judge scheduled to begin April 21 in Chattanooga. The results of that hearing will determine whether there will be a new election at the plant.
Haslam, who has been a vocal critic of the United Auto Workers' efforts to represent workers at Volkswagen's lone U.S. plant, has long denied suggestions that tax credits, grants and other incentives were tied to the union being rejected at the factory.
"During this process, we've heard concerns from suppliers and other companies about unionization, and we have talked about all of those things publicly," said Dave A. Smith, a Haslam spokesman. "We never have made any different financial offer — for more or less — based on whether the company unionized or not."
Call for investigation
In a related development, State Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, sent a letter on Tuesday to the speakers of the House and Senate requesting a special investigation into "Project Trinity."
"As elected members of the legislature we owe it to our constituents to fully vet how our tax dollars are being spent," Turner said in his letter to House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. "Nothing in the current code authorizes the executive branch to use corporate incentives for the purpose of intervening in a lawfully organized labor election."
Turner called for a joint meeting of the Government Operations Committee as soon as possible to conduct the investigation.
UAW Regional Director Gary Casteel issued a statement calling the action by state officials "outrageous."
"This type of heavy-handed political coordination was used to deny Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga the same kind of collaborative relationship that Volkswagen workers around the world enjoy," Casteel said.
In its original petition, the union cited what it called "threatening and intimidating" public statements by top elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and Republican leaders in the General Assembly, including Harwell.
The petition and the supplement cited what the UAW called a coordinated effort by state officials and anti-union organizations to influence the election.
Clint Brewer, spokesman for the state Department of Economic Development, issued a statement denying any attempt to influence workers to vote against the union.
He said the language in the $300 million incentive offer dubbed "Project Trinity" was intended to convey the state's concerns with the election process.
"In August 2013, it was unclear whether a works council was possible under U.S. law," Brewer wrote, referring to the date when the original offer was put forward by state officials.
Brewer said that the state kept the offer on the table for two months after the normal 90-day period "due to the importance of the Volkswagen project."
He also noted that the incentive offer was actually withdrawn in January before the union vote occurred. Volkswagen workers rejected the unionization effort by a vote of 712-626 in mid-February.
An Aug. 23 summary of a nearly $300 million package, obtained by WTVF in Nashville, carries a disclaimer toward the top of the page: "The incentives described below 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's offer sheet, marked confidential, includes $207 million in cash and cash equivalents and $93 million in tax credits for Volkswagen to add 960 production jobs and 240 contractor positions at the plant.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.