It’s alive! TN officials try to contain their own experiment


By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Tennessee officials evidently don’t read classic literature — specifically, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Otherwise, they could have avoided panic attacks over worries the United Auto Workers union may come to Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant.

Heck, forget Frankenstein and his monster.

If these red state politicians simply practiced the principles of a smaller, crony-capitalism-free government, they possibly wouldn’t find themselves in this predicament.

Or, at the very least, they shouldn’t have given more than $260 million to VW of Chattanooga — which has 3,000 workers — without at least having a stipulation that no union or works council could assert itself there.

But, as Laura Elkins, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development told Tennessee Watchdog on Friday, state officials made no such demand.

Workers at the VW plant will decide this week whether they will join the UAW.

As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, talks between the UAW and VW workers revolve around whether the UAW should form what has thus far been known as a European-style works council, which no other U.S. automobile factory has.

Depending on who you ask, a works council is also one of two other things — a prelude to forming an actual union or no different from already having one, said National Right to Work Foundation spokesman Patrick Semmens.

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 NRTW website.

Tennessee is a right-to-work state, meaning workers can’t be fired for not joining the UAW and paying union dues.

If it can establish itself at VW Chattanooga, the UAW would have a presence at a foreign-owned automobile manufacturing plant for the first time in more than 20 years.

The story has attracted a lot of national attention.

TO UNIONIZE OR NOT: Workers as a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., soon may be asked if they want to join the United Auto Workers labor union.

The LA Times, for instance, quotes State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, as saying the state might not give any more incentives to VW if workers choose to unionize.

“You might argue that Watson’s position is actually a good-government one; chasing industrial investment with tax incentives smacks of crony capitalism. Throwing subsidies at the likes of VW also tilts the playing field in favor of one global competitor over the others, and a foreign one at that,” according to the Times.

“The problem for Watson is that Tennessee has already embraced this sort of government interference in the marketplace, with gusto.”

Former Chattanooga mayor and now U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican who helped bring VW to the state, has publicly criticized the UAW vote, according to

As Tennessee Watchdog has already reported, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s office wouldn’t answer our questions about whether he tried to offer more taxpayer subsidies to VW in exchange for company officials keeping the UAW out.

According to Shelley’s novel, it didn’t take long for Frankenstein to disavow his experiment. The monster swore revenge on his creator and later caused irreparable harm to his life. In turn, the creator swore to destroy what he built.

If the UAW establishes itself in Tennessee, these same leaders, mostly Republicans, could find themselves challenged by Democrats on a larger scale.

Republican leaders may or may not see the UAW as a monster, but it is an entity that endangers their best interests.

It’s possible market forces alone might have brought VW to the state, along with the UAW, regardless — but we’ll never know. We do know state officials made the process a whole lot easier.

Tennessee leaders made this bed for themselves and now they — and unwitting taxpayers — have to sleep in it.

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