This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Workers at a Volkswagen factory in Tennessee have voted against union representation, a devastating loss that derails the United Auto Workers union’s effort to organize Southern factories. The 712-626 vote released late Friday stunned many labor experts who expected a UAW win because Volkswagen tacitly endorsed the union and even allowed organizers into the Chattanooga factory to make sales pitches. But the union faced stern opposition from Republican politicians who warned that a union win would chase away other automakers who might come to the region.
Volkswagen’s Chattanooga employees have spurned the United Auto Workers, rejecting two years of wooing by the Detroit-based union in a 712 to 626 vote. The vote count came late Friday after three days of balloting by VW workers in the National Labor Relations Board-supervised election. Some experts said the result is a blow to the UAW and that the VW plant was its best chance to organize a foreign-owned auto factory in the South. UAW President Bob King said he was “deeply disappointed” by the outcome, but insisted that the union will regroup and consider its options, which may include a challenge to the results because of what he said was interference by Tennessee Republicans. “To lose by such a close margin is very, very difficult,” King said.
The United Auto Workers union suffered a crushing defeat Friday, falling short in an election in which it seemed to have a clear path to organizing workers at Volkswagen AG VOW3.XE +1.10% ‘s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. The setback is a bitter defeat because the union had the cooperation of Volkswagen management and the aid of Germany’s powerful IG Metall union, yet it failed to win a majority among the plants 1,550 hourly workers. Volkswagen workers rejected the union by a vote of 712 to 626.
In a defeat for organized labor in the South, employees at the Volkswagen plant here voted 712 to 626 against joining the United Automobile Workers. The loss is an especially stinging blow for U.A.W. because Volkswagen did not even oppose the unionization drive. The union’s defeat — in what was one of the most closely watched unionization votes in decades — is expected to slow, perhaps stymie, the union’s long-term plans to organize other auto plants in the South. A retired local judge, Samuel H. Payne, announced the vote results inside VW’s sprawling plant after officials from the National Labor Relations Board had counted the ballots.
It was close, but employees at Volkswagen’s only U.S. plant voted against being represented by the United Auto Workers. The VW plant in Chattanooga was seen as the union’s best chance to organize at a foreign-owned plant in the south. Even after falling short, UAW president Bob King commended Volkswagen for keeping an “open atmosphere” so employees could decide for themselves. The union said it had a majority of workers sign cards of support for representation. But apparently, when it came to a secret ballot, 53 percent of workers voted no. Outside forces played a major role.
In what was billed as the biggest American labor battle of the new millennium, employees at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga gave a thumbs down to the United Automobile Workers representing them. The election, which was conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, began Wednesday and ended Friday. The unofficial results, which have yet to be certified by NLRB, were 712 against UAW and 626 voting in favor of the union representing them. Volkswagen’s corporate leaders had said they were content with UAW organizing their Chattanooga facility in order to establish a German-style “works council” like those that exist in other VW plants outside the United States.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who led a last-minute campaign against the United Auto Workers attempt to organize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, said “Needless to say, I am thrilled for the employees at Volkswagen and for our community and its future.” As mayor of Chattanooga from 2001-2005, Corker worked with officials and community leaders to develop the 1,200 acre Enterprise South Industrial Park, which is now home to Volkswagen’s North American manufacturing headquarters. Much of the negotiation that led to Volkswagen choosing Chattanooga occurred around the dining room table of Corker’s Chattanooga home.
Leaders of the United Auto Workers union, who claimed to have majority support from Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga last year, said they appear to have lost some of their support this week when Tennessee Republican leaders suggested that the union might limit chances for a plant expansion and make the GOP-controlled Legislature less willing to help the German auto maker expand. “We started to see some movement when the governor made his comments (saying the union could hurt economic recruitment),” said Dennis Williams, secretary treasurer for the UAW. “
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Nashville, tonight blasted Tennessee Republicans for trying to coerce workers to vote against the United Auto Workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. “While we respect the decision made by Volkswagen workers, the result does not excuse the outrageous and unprecedented conduct by Tennessee’s Republican elected official,” Turner said in a statement. “The intimidation tactics and coercive efforts should be condemned, regardless of the outcome tonight. Workers deserved the right to vote without being pressured by outside special interests and elected officials, but that did not happen.”
After years of sharp tuition increases and declining state subsidies, Tennessee’s public colleges and universities are turning to student fee increases to help pay the rising costs of running the campuses. The Tennessee Board of Regents is reviewing requests from its institutions for 64 fee changes, most of them increases, for the 2014-15 school year — 38 spread among all six of its universities and 26 at six of its 13 community colleges. The other seven, including Southwest Tennessee CC in Shelby County, are not requesting any fee increases. Fees are separate from tuition but paid by students on the same semester bill.
The $21.6 million project launched in March 2011 to replace the Marion Memorial Bridge over the Tennessee River in Marion County is still about 30 percent shy of completion. Work on the new span once was set to wrap up this month. “We don’t have an official completion date yet, but we hope to have traffic on the new bridge by this summer with a total project completion by the end of the year,” Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said. TDOT officials say the project on Jan. 31 had exceeded the almost 900-day original time line by five months.
If Patricia Ransdell starts weaving in traffic, passes out behind the wheel or crashes her SUV, she wants first responders to know that diabetes or a heart issue may be to blame. “I don’t want anyone to think I’m intoxicated,” the Clarksville woman said Thursday, explaining that a low blood sugar spell – or hypoglycemia – can resemble drunkenness. “I thought, if anything ever happens, I want them to be aware of my conditions.” Ransdell is among about 50 Clarksvillians who have already enrolled in the Tennessee Yellow DOT Program since it was launched locally in late-January.
The Tennessee General Assembly has many powers. Perhaps even to control time. A West Tennessee lawmaker, state Rep. Curry Todd, is promoting a bill that would eliminate daylight saving time. Or make it permanent. Or perhaps even extend the day itself. No one seems quite sure. The point is, Tennesseans would stop adjusting their clocks twice a year. Todd says this would benefit farmers, schoolchildren and businesses by adding an hour of sunlight. “You came up with this?” state Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, asked when the bill was presented for the first time in a House subcommittee Wednesday. “You came up with a wangdanger, I can tell you.”
Maria Miguel-Francisco has attended Knox County Schools since she was in kindergarten. She plays the flute, has a B average and wants to be a nurse when she grows up. But instead of preparing for college when she graduates from Central High School in a few months, she will likely have to get a job to begin saving for an expensive tuition bill. That’s because Miguel-Francisco came to Tennessee illegally with her mother when she was 4 years old, making her ineligible to receive in-state tuition. New legislation, however, could change that for students like Miguel-Francisco.
A proposed state law sponsored by two East Tennessee legislators “is clearly written to target LGBT couples,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU-TN. Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said Friday that the so-called Religious Freedom Act he sponsored with Knoxville Rep. Bill Dunn would protect wedding-related businesses from lawsuits if they refuse business with certain groups. Weinberg said the bill discriminates against homosexual, bisexual and transgender individuals. Bell disagreed. “I think it’s happening, but it’s happening the other way, by the government, through the courts,” Bell said.
The American Civil Liberties Union commended state Sen. Brian Kelsey on Friday for withdrawing from the sponsorship of a bill that shields individuals and businesses from legal liability for refusing goods and services for same-sex couples. The ACLU’s Tennessee office said the bill, which is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, could make Tennessee the first state in the nation to enact a law allowing the use of religion to discriminate. Kelsey, R-Germantown, telephoned the Senate clerk’s office Thursday after the Tennessee legislature had recessed for the weekend to withdraw his name from Senate Bill 2566 and transfer its sponsorship to Sen. Mike Bell, R-Athens.
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn will will square off against Bill Nye “The Science Guy” on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” Blackburn, a Brentwood Republican, is vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Nye is a popular science educator who was propelled to fame by his “Bill Nye the Science Guy” show in the mid-90s. Nye is apparently in the debating mood as of late. Last week, Nye squared off on evolution with Ken Ham, president of the Creation Museum, in a debate that was widely watched online. “Meet the Press” will air at 9 a.m. Sunday on NBC.
State officials and unions here announced a tentative agreement Friday to water down a sweeping 2011 pension-overhaul law that shored up one of the nation’s most underfunded public-retirement systems and was seen as a landmark shift in a solidly Democratic state. After months of court-ordered mediation, the two sides said they had reached a settlement in a legal challenge brought by public-sector unions more than a year ago. The proposed agreement favors veteran employees: It would roll back the retirement age for many current workers to 65 from 67, increase the frequency of cost-of-living adjustments, and restore a traditional defined-benefit plan for workers with 20 years or more on the job.
State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, has quietly removed his name from a bill that would have legalized discrimination in Tennessee, and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is commending him for it. But until Kelsey explains why he had his name removed from the Religious Freedom Act, the ACLU’s pat on the back may be premature. Kelsey was the Senate sponsor of SB2566, which “permits persons and religious or denominational organizations, based on sincere religious belief, to refuse to provide services or goods in furtherance of a civil union, domestic partnership, or marriage not recognized by the Tennessee Constitution.”