Haslam: No anti-union litmus test

WASHINGTON — Just a week after a union defeat at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Gov. Bill Haslam suggested Thursday his administration is open to recruiting automakers and other manufacturers whose workers are unionized, reports Michael Collins.

“It’s not like we have a litmus test saying we’re not going to work with any industry that’s unionized,” he said.

Haslam, speaking in Washington about the state’s efforts to recruit high-tech industries, said he spoke out against the United Auto Workers’ campaign to unionize workers in Chattanooga because unionization would have made it harder to attract auto suppliers to Tennessee.

But Haslam said he doesn’t think stopping unionization is essential to attracting or growing high-tech industries in the state.

Volkswagen was a unique case, he said, because the German automaker is planning to build a new seven-passenger SUV in either Chattanooga or a plant in Mexico.

In its discussions with Tennessee, Volkswagen stressed that for Chattanooga to win production of the new model, more suppliers would be needed near the plant and the state would have to show that it could shrink the gap in the cost of manufacturing a car in Tennessee or Mexico.

Haslam told Volkswagen, “that is going to be a lot harder, in my opinion, if UAW comes in,” he said during Thursday’s event at the Brookings Institution, a think tank.

“It’s not just my opinion,” he said. “I had suppliers telling us that — that if they come, we won’t come. There was a direct link, in this case.”

In the face of strong criticism from Haslam, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and other Republicans in the state, Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga voted 712-626 last week against unionizing.