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UAW: 'Ball Is Back In The Governor's Court'

UAW: 'Ball Is Back In The Governor's Court'

By Phil Williams. CREATED Apr 21, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The United Auto Workers ended one battle Monday, but the struggle to represent Volkswagen workers appears to be far from over.

And union officials promised to turn up the heat in Congress over how Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's administration used your money to fight the union. It follows the revelation by NewsChannel 5 Investigates of a secret $300 million offer to Volkswagen.

The UAW had subpoenaed the governor, key members of his administration and U.S. Senator Bob Corker to testify at a hearing Monday before the National Labor Relations Board.

Then, early Monday, the union suddenly dropped its appeal of an election that it lost back in February.

"Is this a surrender?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked UAW organizer Gary Casteel.

 "No, absolutely not," he insisted. "The writing that we saw on the wall is that they were not going to comply with the subpoenas."

Casteel said central to the union's argument that it deserved a new election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga was the alleged interference by Tennessee Republicans. U.S. Senator Bob Corker would have been a key witness. So would Governor Haslam.

The UAW wanted to know more about Haslam's confidential offer of $300 million in incentives last fall to Volkswagen -- in exchange for a say in the company's deal with the union.

"If people want to obstruct it, which it became very clear that the senator and the governor and the other politicians and even other third-party groups were going to do that, that process can go on for years," Casteel said.

That's why he said the UAW suddenly dropped its case, clearing the way for VW to reopen talks with the Haslam administration about getting the incentives to help it add a new SUV line at the Chattanooga plant.

The governor had called the UAW's case a potential obstacle to those negotiations.

"We removed that, so the ball is back in the governor's court," Casteel said. "He should give them the incentives, no strings attached, just like he would any other company."

Asked by reporters Monday, Haslam was non-committal about the chances of a deal -- or whether his administration would help the company if the UAW were involved.

"We felt all along that the election was a fair and square election and that the results of elections should be respected," the governor said. "I think this will help things move along in Chattanooga - period."

Still, one prominent anti-union group has claimed the Volkswagen is preparing to recognize the UAW despite the results of February's election.

"Is there any sort of deal with Volkswagen?" we asked Casteel.

"Nothing that we want to announce," he answered.

"Even if we did have a deal, which I'm not saying we do, [the governor] has said that doesn't matter. So they should get the incentives, the employees should get the new product and VW should start building cars."

Volkswagen has signaled that, without the incentives, they would be forced to take the new SUV line -- and the thousand-plus jobs -- to Mexico.

That could give the UAW some leverage to cut a deal with the company.

"It sounds like you are not denying there is a deal," NewsChannel 5 Investigates observed to Casteel.

"I am denying that there is a deal today," he said, emphasizing the last word. "I am saying that we continue to have discussions with VW and that I'm confident, very confident, that in the end there will be a representation at Chattanooga."

How long will that take?

"It's a very fluid situation," Casteel said, with a smile.

Casteel said the union is also working with members of Congress to get a full hearing on the Haslam administration's use of federal funds -- part of that $300 million -- as leverage against the union.

He questioned whether that was legal.

So how soon might we know if the Haslam administration cuts a deal with Volkswagen?

VW's supervisory board, which includes members of organized labor, meets in just three weeks.

That's when they're expected to make a decision on where the new SUV will be built.

Back to NC5 Investigates: Tennessee's Secret Deals
NewsChannel 5 Investigates

Phil Williams

Phil Williams

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Phil Williams is chief investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5's nationally award-winning investigative team. His investigations have earned him journalism's highest honors.