Legislators eye blocking VW incentives because of union activity

The General Assembly could oppose providing incentives for Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant expansion in the wake of United Auto Workers gains at the factory, reports the Chattanooga TFP.

“I start with a jaundiced view,” said state Rep. Mike Carter about the incentives estimated at nearly $300 million, a large chunk of which is to come from the state.

Action on the VW incentives, negotiated last year by Gov. Bill Haslam and state economic development officials, is expected to come during the upcoming legislative session and with a backdrop of UAW activity at the plant.

“There will be discussions about additional incentives to Volkswagen,” said state Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, in a meeting with Times Free Press reporters and editors. “Whatever is playing out locally will be part of that discussion.”

When pressed on an outcome, Watson said, “I didn’t say they should pass the incentives. I didn’t say they were going to pass. At the end of the day, we’ll settle on what is in the best interests of the citizens. Each individual legislator will take a position that best represents his district.”

Last year, Watson was among state legislative leaders who sharply criticized VW for supporting the UAW ahead of a February union vote by VW employees. He said then that VW conducted a labor campaign that’s “unfair, unbalanced and, quite frankly, un-American.”

The UAW lost, 712 to 626.

But the UAW alleged interference by Republican state politicians and formed a nondues-paying local. Since then, VW created a new policy to interact with labor groups based on membership and granted the UAW access to the plant and regular meetings with management.

A rival labor group, the American Council of Employees, has alleged that VW favors the UAW and is not offering “a level playing field.”

VW denies preference for one group over another and says its policy is “fair and equal treatment of all groups.

…Sen. Todd Gardenhire said VW officials are “in your face. It’s their way or no way. They’ve decided by-golly they want the UAW here. They’re not listening to the community.”

But state Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, believes VW supports the UAW because in Germany, working with unions has helped stabilize the economy and labor pool.

Still, Favors said, with other budgetary needs in the state, such as education, VW may not need the full incentive package.”

UPDATE: Haslam weighs in.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam says he understands the “real concerns” raised by some fellow Republican lawmakers about the ongoing role of the United Auto Workers union’s role at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, but stressed that they shouldn’t sink a $300 million incentive deal to get the German automaker to expand production there.

Haslam, who last summer struck the incentives deal with Volkswagen to add the production of a new SUV at the Chattanooga plant and add about 2,000 jobs, told reporters Wednesday that his administration will work to persuade reluctant lawmakers to agree to the arrangement.

“You have some real concerns expressed by legislators that we understand — we expressed those same concerns up front as well,” Haslam said. “We’ll have those discussions about where we think Volkswagen is and why we think this is the right proposal for the state.”