Tennessee officials offered $300 million to Volkswagen of Chattanooga last year, and some people say it was an attempt to keep the United Auto Workers out of the factory and out of the state.
Gov. Bill Haslam reportedly made the offer in secret, and no one other than top VW officials knew about it, various news agencies report.
VW workers, by a tally of 712-626, voted not to join the UAW in February.
UAW officials, who didn't return Watchdog's requests for comment, are expected to formally try to overturn the results of that election during a National Labor Relations Board hearing April 21 in Chattanooga.
"It's a bit strange, because on the one hand they're saying this is a secret arrangement, and they're saying that it affected workers," said Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation, which represents an unspecified number of VW workers who opposed the UAW.
"If it's kept secret from them, then it's not clear how it could actually impact how workers voted."
Semmens told Tennessee Watchdog that the UAW will have to work hard to make a solid case.
"It's not clear that the matter of the incentives is even illegal anyway. I don't think it necessarily is, but I think the UAW wants to make a big show out of that," Semmens said.
"I don't even think that the documents the UAW are pointing to even support their position. It seems any offer that was on the table was taken away before the voting took place. It also isn't even clear that they said the UAW has to not be in there to get the incentives," he said.
Clint Brewer, spokesman for Tennessee's Economic and Community Development, said Monday that the state withdrew the reported $300 million incentive offer in January, before the UAW vote in Chattanooga even took place.
Officials in Haslam's office didn't return Tennessee Watchdog's requests for comment on the matter.
As other news outlets have already reported, Haslam has acknowledged making the $300 million offer after months of not commenting to Tennessee Watchdog.
The Detroit News reported last week that Haslam and various other state officials had received subpoenas to appear at the April 21 hearing.
Among them were:
- Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker;
- Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell;
- Majority Leader Gerald McCormick;
- State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga;
- Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty.
Brewer had no comment on whether Hagerty would appear at the hearing. Attorneys for Corker, Harwell, and McCormick are reviewing their options, said their spokespeople, Kara Owen, Todd Womack, and Trace Whittum.
Semmens told Tennessee Watchdog the case might boil down to a simple matter of free speech.
"Volkswagen never said if you vote 'yes' then we're going to put the new line on this plant," Semmens said. "If something like that was said by the company, then there probably is precedent to say there should be a rerun election, but it's a much higher standard that gets applied to third parties.
"The idea that free speech should be limited by the NLRB is not clear, and it's not clear what the legal standard should be."
The UAW has complained about what it calls the outside influence of third parties over February's election, specifically elected Tennessee Republican officials such as Corker, who publicly spoke out against the union.
Semmens, however, dismissed the UAW's claim that outside influences unfairly affected the outcome of the vote — particularly considering President Barack Obama publicly spoke out in favor of the UAW in this matter.
As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, the UAW may not legally attempt another vote at the plant for at least a year.
Talks between UAW and VW workers had revolved around whether the union could form what has been known as a European-style works council, which no other U.S. automobile factory has. Some say that's tantamount to having an union.
A union isn't legally required for the type of activity that goes on in works councils, at least not in the United States, according to the NRWF website.
Tennessee is a right-to-work state, meaning workers can't be fired for not joining the UAW and paying union dues.
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