U.S. Sen. Bob Corker defended his outspoken opposition Tuesday to the United Auto Workers organizing the Volkswagen factory at his hometown Chattanooga.
"To me, this was going to be something harmful to our state, our economy, our jobs," Corker told an audience gathered for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce lunch event at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center.
A majority of the Volkswagen workers recently voted in a secret ballot against joining the UAW, but the union is challenging the results in part because of Corker's role in influencing the opposition.
UAW Local 1853 Chairman Mike Herron during a phone interview Tuesday questioned why Corker continues to be critical of his union.
"The senator has a personal vendetta, and it's very unfortunate that he has reacted in some such a matter," said Herron, noting that UAW had a key role in convincing General Motors to invest $350 million in product development at his factory in Spring Hill.
His factory, which used to build the Saturn cars, manufactures the Equinox SUV, engines, injection moldings for multiple products, including the Corvette, and stamps parts for other General Motors products.
"It's about job growth," Herron said. "The union is very pro business and has been very pro growth in terms of job creation in this state."
Herron contends that Corker crossed the line with remarks about the possibility of an SUV product being in jeopardy.
"He mislead the people of Chattanooga when he said that voting no for the UAW would result in new product announcements for that facility," Herron said. "He purposely misled them in order to persuade them even though the Volkswagen company indicated they were desirous of having a union."
No SUV announcement has been made, Herron noted.
"The guy just flat out mislead the workers in that facility," Herron added. "The only thing that Senator Corker is afraid of is that those workers would get the economic justice that they deserve in the form of higher wages, better benefits and a voice in the work place where they work."
Corker told the chamber audience that no announcement has been made because UAW is challenging the vote.
A former mayor of Chattanooga, Corker told the audience that only UAW was allowed in the factory to influence the workers.
Some of the employees who opposed the union were the main leaders in influencing most of their coworkers to vote against the union, Corker said.
Corker suggested that if Tennessee wants to attract industry, the state should stay clear of the influence that UAW has in Michigan.
"Companies don't look at Detroit," Corker said.
One Chamber audience member questioned Corker about his stance on unions: "Is there any place for unions in our state?"
Corker said he supports other trade unions and noted many do an outstanding job of training workers, including the ones he hired when he operated his construction business.
"All of my workers were union," said Corker, noting how he served as a trustee to ensure that funds for the employee retirement and health care benefits were stable.
The senator, though, said that he does have an issue with UAW pursuing a "path of job destruction throughout the country wherever they've been."
The senator said he had a negative impression of the UAW representatives when they were coming to his office to seek support for bail out funds for the country's automakers in the Detroit area.
At the time, Corker had national media attention by calling for the automakers to reorganize with all the stakeholders, including the union workers, being willing to accept less in compensation to keep the companies going.
Corker suggested that UAW is fighting for their own survival while being forced to sell off $300 million in stocks and bonds to cover overhead.
The senator said Volkswagen already was paying its employees well to work in the most advanced plant around, so there was no need the UAW.
Corker noted that he was involved in recruiting efforts to bring Volkswagen to Chattanooga. The city established an industrial park with an interstate interchange to attract the factory, and the senator said he spoke with Volkswagen executives in Northern Virginia about locating manufacturing jobs in his home town.
The senator also said he sees part of his job in public service as providing his voice to issues, including the UAW union vote at the Volkswagen factory.
"I'm glad I was involved," Corker said.