Tenn. Senator Says 'Liberty And Freedoms' At Stake In Volkswagen Workers' Union Vote

Around 4,000 workers at Volkswagen’s assembly plant in Chattanooga are set to start casting ballots in an election on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON – Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) argued that workers unionizing at a Volkswagen auto plant in his state would be bad for business and harm U.S. competitiveness abroad.

“I hope that the workers of Tennessee take a very, very careful look at this and what it means for their liberty and freedoms at the end of the day,” Hagerty told HuffPost last week before a vote on Capitol Hill.

Hagerty walked back off the Senate floor a few minutes later and beckoned to HuffPost for another crack at the question about his position for this week’s union election, as if to underscore his point.

“If I could give any message, I just hope that Tennessee workers, as they think about their vote, think about the long-term competitiveness of the Chinese,” Hagerty said.

Around 4,000 workers at Volkswagen’s assembly plant in Chattanooga are set to start casting ballots on whether to formally unionize with the United Auto Workers on Wednesday. A victory would give the UAW a crucial toehold among foreign-owned automakers in the South, where union membership tends to be low and politicians are more hostile to labor groups.

Volkswagen employees rejected the UAW twice before, but this time the union is riding high following its successful strike last year that resulted in significant raises at Ford, General Motors and Jeep parent company Stellantis.

There also appears to be less political pressure to reject the union coming from Tennessee Republicans this time. During a 2014 union campaign, former Sen. Bob Corker went out of his way to suggest the plant could lose a production line by going union, and state lawmakers threatened to take away tax subsidies in the event of a UAW win.

Hagerty did not take as aggressive a stance against the union as Corker, but he claimed union representation would make the plant less competitive.

“The Chinese are being extraordinarily aggressive, particularly in the area of work with vehicles, and we have to maintain our competitiveness. And union dues and all the things that go with it just add additional burden and cost to a vehicle,” he said.

Volkswagen workers interviewed by HuffPost last week said there’s less fear the plant could lose production lines or economic subsidies by organizing now. The facility has been around for well over a decade at this point and has seen substantial investments from both the company and the state. Volkswagen said it poured $800 million into electrifying the plant, which produces the ID.4 electric SUV.

Not all Tennessee politicians have voiced the same concerns as Hagerty. Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, whose district includes Chattanooga, told HuffPost last week that he had decided to “stay out of it” and “let the workers decide.”

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