ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press
SPRING HILL, Tenn. — Autoworkers' joy at getting vehicle production back on line at General Motors' Spring Hill plant has done little to quell their disdain for Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.
Corker was a lead critic of the federal government bailout of automakers in 2009, and pushed for wage and benefit concessions from the United Auto Workers. Many Spring Hill workers felt Corker's stance did little to keep the plant from being idled that year.
The senator was booed and heckled by the audience when he spoke at a ceremony Monday to announce the plant outside Nashville will begin making vehicles again next year. Corker listened to 20 seconds of jeers after his introduction in the plants manufacturing hall.
"I see the saga continues," Corker told the crowd. "I think everyone knows that we've had our differences in the past. And I can tell today that that's fine with you, and it's fine with me."
Corker then urged workers to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the company's investment in the plant that is projected to result in 1,900 jobs by the 2015 model year.
"Citizens across our country have invested in GM, and you and the company have been offered a new lease on life, and a new opportunity to rebuild a great American enterprise," Corker said.
"It's my hope that you will respond by waking up every day and working tirelessly to make this company great again," he said.
The audience showed no similar acrimony toward Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who as governor helped persuade General Motors to build its Saturn plant in Tennessee in the 1980s. Alexander in turn praised GM and the union for working to bring back auto manufacturing to Spring Hill.
Alexander noted after the event that Tennessee laws remain friendly to companies without unionized labor, such as automakers Nissan Motor Co. in Smyrna and Volkswagen AG in Chattanooga.
"People have a right to join a union, or not join a union," Alexander said. "And I think it's a great compliment to our state that a General Motors-UAW partnership can be successful, and so can a Nissan partnership."
The event also featured union speakers who praised Democratic President Barack Obama's policies and extolled the virtues of organized labor and collective bargaining.
Alexander downplayed the hostility displayed toward the junior senator from Tennessee.
"I think Bob Coker is a very effective, popular United States senator," he said.
On his way out of the event, Corker declined to delve into his relationship with the UAW.
"You know, I don't really want to comment," he said. "My public comments are my comments."