Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that the possibility of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant becoming unionized is coming up as a topic of concern among other industries the state is trying to recruit to Tennessee, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. The Republican governor, who opposes the United Auto Workers’ unionization efforts, said he has “heard that from some of the other people considering Tennessee that that would be a negative in their mind if that happened in Chattanooga.”
“So,” Haslam continued, “we’ve communicated that to Volkswagen. Ultimately, like I said, we want to see them [Volkswagen] grow here.”
Meanwhile, an international labor expert said that German labor leaders backing the organizing effort in Chattanooga could influence whether a potential new model is produced in Tennessee or Mexico. Lowell Turner, a Cornell University international and comparative labor professor, said he interpreted a statement last week by a top leader in VW’s global works council to mean that “We’d like to see representation [in Chattanooga] and for it to happen before we look at expansion there.”
“If we can expand somewhere else with a more friendly environment, why expand in a place that’s hostile to unions and worker representation,” Turner said he thought was the message.
Last week, VW Group deputy works council chief Stephan Wolf threatened to block expansion in Chattanooga unless a similar labor panel is put into place at the factory.
The Chattanooga Times-Free Press has a rundown on the “increasingly pitched battle over unionizing Volkswagen’s auto assembly plant” in Southeast Tennessee. A Washington, D.C.-based group is ramping up a summer-long campaign to convince plant workers and Chattanoogans in general about what it calls “devastating” consequences for the factory, city and state should the employees unionize.
Pro-union forces, such as the Michigan-based United Auto Workers, continue to press their case for what they say is “a new model” where the workforce and management aren’t adversarial but rather vie for the same goal.
Matt Patterson, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center For Economic Freedom, said his group has put up a billboard on Highway 153, just a few miles from the VW plant, to help get its message across about the dangers of unions and the UAW.
The billboard depicts a rundown former Detroit, Mich., auto plant and states “Auto unions ATE Detroit. Next meal: Chattanooga?”
Plans are to begin efforts to educate business leaders, politicians and citizens “about the history, tactics and legacy of this powerful union,” according to a website, WorkplaceChoice.org, sponsored by the group.
Patterson said he’s talking with local tea party activists to discuss strategy in terms of distributing materials such as pamphlets.
…Ed Hunter, a Volkswagen employee and union supporter, said education efforts are ongoing to inform employees about a German-style works council labor board and “the new UAW.”
“Our group is expanding every day,” he said, adding that people see the German model as one in which “everybody is working for the same goal.”
At the VW plant, Juergen Stumpf, who has extensive experience as an employee representative in the VW Group and is considered an expert on the German works councils system, has been assigned to the Chattanooga factory.
“Mr. Stumpf is currently on assignment in Chattanooga to be an information resource for the local management and employees regarding the German model of co-determination,” said plant spokesman Scott Wilson.
A poll sponsored by an organization promoting expanded background checks for gun purchases found that 67 percent of Tennessee voters surveyed support the idea while 26 percent oppose it.
The survey of 500 Tennessee registered voters, taken May 22-23, was conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of Americans United for Change. Similar results were found in surveys of Arkansas and Georgia voters, a news release says, indicating “even in dark red states there’s strong, bipartisan support for expanded background checks.”
A Vanderbilt University poll, conducted earlier in the month, asked Tennessee voters if they supported criminal background checks for gun purchasers and 90 percent said they do.
— Note: The PPP poll news release is below.
News release from Humane Society of the United States:
(May 9, 2013)– In contrast to the two foreign substance violations reported by the Tennessee walking horse industry at the 2012 National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s testing revealed that 145 horses out of 190 tested, or 76 percent, were found positive.
The Humane Society of the United States has requested that Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr. open an investigation into the veracity of public statements made by officials connected to the Walking Horse Trainers Association Enforcement Initiative, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration and the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization about their initiative to detect unlawful horse soring at the 2012 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.
(Note: A spokeswoman for Cooper said the letter has been received and is under review by the attorney general’s office.)
The HSUS maintains that this discrepancy raises a serious concern that participants and spectators at the Celebration were falsely assured that horses entered were compliant with the federal Horse Protection Act, when evidence of cruelty and cheating may have been concealed by the organizers of the event. The foreign substance testing is used to detect the presence of painful caustic chemicals that trainers apply to horses’ legs. Other cruel training methods – collectively referred to as “soring” – are used to obtain the prized high-stepping gait of the walking horse.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s been learning from both sides about a so-called “ag gag bill” since it was passed by the Legislature two weeks ago, but it hasn’t reached his desk yet and he hasn’t decided whether or not a veto is in order.
The bill has generated thousands of emails, telephone calls and letters to the governor’s office – more than on any legislation that has come up during Haslam’s term as governor – and most have been calling for a veto, a gubernatorial spokesman says.
The Humane Society of the United States has organized a campaign against the bill, including TV ads urging people to contact Haslam and urge a veto. Celebrities including TV host Ellen DeGeneres and country music singer Carrie Underwood have also pushed a veto.
Haslam said he would not simply “tally results” before making his decision.
“Obviously, we value everyone’s opinion. But we’re trying to go beyond that and find the argument,” he said.
From the News Sentinel website:
Federal and local authorities seized 19 horses from a Blount County stable of a walking horse show trainer Thursday on suspicion that the animals have been subjected to the practice known as “soring.”
The trainer, Larry Joe Wheelon, 68, is charged with one felony count of animal cruelty, with additional charges pending, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
The seizure came a week after U.S. Department of Agriculture agents and Blount County authorities executed a search and seizure warrant at Wheelon’s barn on Tuckaleeche Pike in response to an anonymous tip.
Authorities returned Thursday to remove the 19 horses, which were visibly in pain, including several that were barely able to stand.
Investigators suspect the horses’ injuries were caused by soring — the application of caustic chemicals and painful devices to their hooves and legs used to produce the artificial, high-stepping “Big Lick” gait.
“It’s a significant number of horses to get to safety,” said Leighann McCollum, Tennessee director for HSUS. “Horses that will never have to endure that again — hopefully.”
The Blount County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to All Animals and Horse Haven of Tennessee assisted in removing the horses to an undisclosed location, McCollum said. The Blount County Sheriff’s Office also provided security during the seizure.
Wheelon is an active director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainer’s Association and sits on its ethics committee, according to the Humane Society. Since 1993, he has been cited by inspectors 15 times for violations of the federal Horse Protection Act. Wheelon was booked into the Blount County Justice Center Thursday in lieu of $5,000 bond.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Bill Haslam’s office had counted 4,502 emails and 1,796 phone calls – almost all of them against the so-called “ag gag” bill, reports WPLN. That’s more than Haslam has ever received on a single subject. The proposal that passed the Tennessee legislature by a narrow margin requires that activists turn over footage of livestock cruelty to police within 48 hours. Organizations like the Humane Society of the United States say such a law would criminalize long term investigations, like one that led to the conviction of a Tennessee Walking Horse trainer last year.
Animal rights groups have mounted a media blitz, complete with paid advertising in Nashville and Knoxville urging Haslam to veto the bill. TV personality Ellen DeGeneres – a well-known animal activist – had the Humane Society’s CEO on her show to talk about Tennessee’s animal cruelty bill. (More on DeGeneres and ‘Ag Gag’ HERE.)
“These kind of undercover cameras catch a lot of things,” DeGeneres said. “It’s important to keep that kind of thing going.”
It’s unclear how many of the calls and emails are coming from out of state, says a spokesman for Gov. Haslam. Only 16 of the fielded calls have supported the legislation.
— Note: The legislature’s website still says that, as of Tuesday, the bill was awaiting signatures of the House and Senate speakers — a necessary step in the formalities before the bill is officially sent to the governor’s desk. Once on the governor’s desk, he has 10 days — counting Saturday’s but not Sundays — to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
The Humane Society of the United States, lawmakers and two media groups held a State Capitol news conference Monday to urge Gov. Bill Haslam to veto a bill they say would end undercover investigations of animal abuse in the state, reports Richard Locker.
In addition, HSUS began running television ads in Knoxville and Nashville on Saturday encouraging Tennesseans to contact the governor’s office to encourage a veto of what opponents call the “Ag Gag” bill passed by the legislature last week.
HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said his group is spending $100,000 on the TV ads initially. The ads are not running in Memphis, Chattanooga or elsewhere yet but the governor’s office said Monday it had received about 2,000 emails and phone calls on the issue. The governor said Friday that he’s studying the bill.
House Bill 1191/Senate Bill 1248 amends Tennessee’s cruelty to animals statutes to require a person who records, “by photograph, digital image, video or similar medium” for the purpose of documenting cruelty to livestock, to report the violation to the local law enforcement agency and submit any recordings to them within 48 hours.
Pacelle said the bill is part of a national movement to make it a crime to do the kind of undercover work that HSUS did in Fayette County in 2011 when it documented abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses at a trainer’s stable.
Pacelle also disputed statements made by the House sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, that HSUS “held” its undercover recordings of the abuse for four months before reporting to law enforcement.
Pacelle said his HSUS gave recordings to federal prosecutors within two weeks after its undercover operative got a job at the trainer’s stable and, at the prosecutors’ request, the videos were not publicly released for another 13 months. By that time, trainer Jackie McConnell was already under indictment by a federal grand jury in Chattanooga.
“There were so many false statements from the House author in particular,” Pacelle said. “The investigation began in April 2011 and we began to turn information over to the United States attorney for the purpose of enforcing the Horse Protection Act, a federal statute that dates to 1970, within two weeks.”
News release from Humane Society of the United States:
(April 19, 2013) – The Humane Society of the United States urged Gov. Bill Haslam to veto Tennessee’s notorious anti-whistleblower, or “ag-gag,” bill, SB1248, which would make it a crime for reputable non-profit organizations and journalists to document and expose unethical and illegal activity in horse stables and at industrial agriculture facilities. The bill narrowly passed the House with a bare minimum of votes and will soon be transmitted to Gov. Haslam for action.
In a letter to Gov. Haslam, Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO, said the bill “appears to be an attempt to enact a policy of covering up abuses, and keeping the public from learning of them. If it is signed into law, it may indeed backfire, and result in more public mistrust and skepticism about the workings of the Tennessee walking horse industry at a time when it is already suffering a drastic decline in popularity due to the stigma of soring.”
In 2011, an HSUS investigation into Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell’s stable in Collierville, Tenn., revealed shocking cruelty to horses. The whistleblower recorded horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face and intentionally burned with caustic chemicals. As a direct result of that investigation, a federal grand jury handed down a 52-count criminal indictment and a state grand jury indicted McConnell and two others for 38 counts of criminal animal cruelty.
A bill to forbid United Nations representatives from observing Tennessee elections, approved by to state House panels previously, was killed when it came before a third on Tuesday.
The bill (HB589) would have made monitoring of a Tennessee election by a UN official a misdemeanor crime. It was sponsored by Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, who has said the idea came from tea party members in his district.
A UN-affiliated group sent two observers to Nashville last year to monitor elections – part of 42 persons sent around the United States to see if laws requiring photo ID to vote impacted elections.
“Frankly, the United Nations has no business doing that,” said Van Huss on Tuesday.
The bill was approved earlier this year by the House Local Government Subcommittee and the full Local Government Committee. But when it came before the Calendar Committee for scheduling a floor vote, it was instead sent to the Civil Justice Subcommittee on motion of Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. who chairs that panel.
When it came up there Tuesday, Lundberg told the panel that keeping the state’s election process open to observers is a way of showing others that the United States and Tennessee have “the best form of government” and that “we don’t have systematic problems.”
Some other members voiced similar sentiments, but Reps. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, and Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, said their distaste of UN tactics led them to support Van Huss’ bill.
Carter said “those nuts issue reports saying we’re committing fraud and we’re doing it right.”
“They’re sending individuals in for the sole purpose of destroying our system, to declare that we have human rights violations,” said Womick. “We’ve got some real nutjobs in charge of the UN and we don’t want them in here.”