WASHINGTON -- After a narrow and devastating loss at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant last week, the United Auto Workers union has asked the federal labor board to set aside the election results because of "a firestorm of interference" from outside groups and politicians, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn).
The union submitted its appeal to the National Labor Relations Board on Friday, according to a UAW press release. Labor board officials will now have to consider whether the statements by lawmakers interfered enough to potentially sway votes and taint the election. The board could essentially order a do-over.
In its 13-page appeal, the UAW said that "threats" made by Tennessee lawmakers were "clearly designed to influence the votes" of Volkswagen workers, who eventually voted 712-to-626 against UAW representation last week. The appeal cites Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), state Senate Speaker Bo Watson (R) and Corker, among others.
"The campaign included publicly-announced and widely disseminated threats by elected officials that state-financed incentives would be withheld if workers exercised their protected right to form a union," the union said in a statement.
Even though many labor law experts felt the UAW could make this very case, the union would not have filed such an appeal lightly, due to the politics at play.
It's possible Germany-based Volkswagen could agree with the union, guaranteeing that the results are set aside and a new election is ordered. If not, that would leave the board to decide whether there's merit in the union's appeal. If the board sets aside the election results and orders a new one, it would almost certainly be assailed by Republicans in Tennessee, as well as in Congress.
As the election was underway last week, Corker made an announcement that many union supporters viewed as coercive. "I've had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga," Corker said. A Volkswagen official, however, said the SUV production would have nothing to do with the union vote.
In its appeal, the UAW cited Corker's statement and said the senator's "conduct was shameful and undertaken with utter disregard for the rights of the citizens of Tennessee and surrounding states that work at Volkswagen."
Under labor board procedure, the UAW will have a week to present evidence to support its case for a new election. A regional hearing officer will make a ruling on the case, but that decision could be appealed to the agency's five-member board in Washington, leading to a longer review.
The UAW election was closely watched -- and drew unprecedented pressure from outside political groups -- because of its stakes for organized labor in the South. With its membership significantly diminished compared to decades past, the union has placed a high priority on organizing its first so-called transnational, or foreign-run, auto plant in the right-to-work Southern states. The loss in Chattanooga was widely seen as a huge setback.
In a statement, Corker said he was "disappointed" in the UAW's move and reiterated his claim that the SUV production hinged on a "no" vote.
"Unfortunately, I have to assume that today's action may slow down Volkswagen’s final discussions on the new SUV line,” Corker said. “This complaint affirms the point many of us have been making: that the UAW is only interested in its own survival and not the interests of the great employees at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen facility nor the company for which they work."
The senator's chief of staff previously told HuffPost that Corker was merely exercising free speech by making his earlier statement.
This post has been updated with a statement from Sen. Corker.