published Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Cook: Tennessee does not like VW?

Will VW workers vote to join the UAW?

It was hard to tell which was the more unbelievable.

Was it the activists who’d come to the news conference dress-acting as oozey millionaires? There was Wilfred Warbucks, with his grand top hat and three-piece suit, waving his fake money around like a one-percenter, a real wolf of Wall Street. There was Priscilla Diamonds, with her fake pearls and her disgust for workers.

“If they could only be as trained as my Corgi,” she said.

They called themselves Millionaires for Wealthcare; they were dapper and dramatic and completely satirical, fanning themselves with their Monopoly money, clapping at all the wrong moments, trying to highlight through their caricatures the wrongness of the anti-union argument.

“Keep that labor cheap!” Priscilla Diamonds shouted.

Yet somehow the absurdity of their protest got upstaged by the politicians on the stage who’d come to speak out against the coming union vote at the Volkswagen plant at Enterprise South industrial park.

Monday morning at the Chattanooga State Office Building, there were five Republicans: Sen. Todd Gardenhire next to Rep. Richard Floyd, Rep. Gerald McCormick next to Rep. Mike Carter. Not one of them batted an eye when State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, at the microphone, said what has to be the Latest Strange Statement in this battle over the unionization of VW.

“Should the workers at Volkwsagen choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers,” Watson said in the heart of his speech, “then I believe any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate.”

Is that a threat?

Is Watson threatening VW? Is he saying that if workers unionize, then they ought to kiss goodbye any chance of our state government helping to incentivize a VW plant expansion?

I think he is, because in the very next sentence, Watson says this:

“I do not see members of the Senate having a positive view of Volkswagen because of the manner in which this campaign has been conducted,” he said.

A positive view?

Is he guilt-tripping VW?

With a strong-armish and patriarchal tone, Watson told VW that our state government doesn’t like them.

To parse his two statements is to realize the depths we’ve reached: The leader of our state senate is telling the auto manufacturer that injected new job creation, global attention and excitement like epinephrine into our region that they’re in the doghouse and, even more shocking, that our Senate will block any incentives that could lead to a new plant expansion.

It’s incredulous, not one but two steps removed from logical. With the somber backing of his four colleagues, Watson stated that the same Senate that gave $500 million (that’s a lot, even for Wilfred Warbucks) of incentives to come here would be the Senate that says no to the next plant expansion if VW unionizes.

And they blame the UAW on job loss?

If VW executives take this statement seriously — here’s hoping they don’t — then gone is any chance they would locate their new plant in Chattanooga. (Makes you wonder if they’re glad they did in the first place). Watson just showed his cards, and VW probably won’t take the trouble to see if he’s bluffing.

Goodbye, Scenic City. Hola, Mexico.

Maybe all this strange talk is because we have been trained to see unions as little better than malaria, like some distant, off-shore contagion. We find unions threatening because they upend the way we’ve arranged the furniture: Only certain people make decisions here. Only certain people have the power.

This psychosis starts in elementary school, and continues through graduation. Few times, if any, are children given real power and voice over their education. Few times, if any, do bureaucrats give teachers real power to creatively craft the lessons they teach.

So we learn passivity. We learn to source our power elsewhere: away from our work, away from the ground. We talk big about self-determination (during parades, in our history books) but not when it applies to workers at VW.

After all, this is their vote, not ours. Not Watson’s, McCormick’s or anyone in the state Senate.

And isn’t it a crime to threaten anyone on how they vote?

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
soakya said...

“Should the workers at Volkwsagen choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers,” Watson said in the heart of his speech, “then I believe any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate.”

Mr. Cook what did you say when plants like VW and others such as Whirlpool threaten to leave or go elsewhere if they don't get incentives? They both are playing the same game, holding taxpayers dollars hostage. They had no business giving them or any other business tax dollars to begin with. The numbers from the financial statements of both TN and Hamilton county shows these deals don't benefit the taxpayers.

February 11, 2014 at 12:22 a.m.
hotdiggity said...

I'm just sitting back watching the Republicans as they devour themselves. Classic cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Bo Watson should probably just stick with what he does best, creating "monkey bills".

February 11, 2014 at 2:53 a.m.
GaussianInteger said...

The clowns representing TN citizens in Nashville are responsible for making TN the laughing stock of the country. TN ranks towards the very bottom in education, employment, average salary, literacy, etc. yet the Nashville elite politicians feel they are doing the state a favor by toeing the party line. Watson, McCormick, Gardenhire, etc. will all preach how there is too much govt regulation; too much govt interference in business, but I guess they feel that doesn't apply to them.

Maybe the executives from VW need to hold a press conference and tell TN legislators how they can better do their job?

February 11, 2014 at 7:51 a.m.
soakya said...

Mr. Cook,

Are to going to answer the question. What do you say when companies hold taxpayers hostage by making threats of relocation or selecting another area because the incentives were better elsewhere. Isn't that against the law, I believe its called extortion. If you want to throw the whole stinking lot of them in jail, I'm with you on that. Because when VW folds and Wacker closes it doors someone needs to go to prison, politicians and corporate officers.

our politicians and these companies are playing with dollars that are not theirs. you want to come to Chattanooga and build cars, fine, do it on your dime. its funny how local and state politicians recognize that the federal government is bad at picking winners but they believe they can pick the winners.

its not working. Hamilton county population growth from 2007-December 2012 20,761. Civilian Labor Force (CLF) growth from 2007-December 2012-6,820 Employed to CLF ratio Dec 2013 .92739
Employed to CLF ratio 2007 .95854

February 11, 2014 at 3:06 p.m.
soakya said...

left out a couple of groups that need to share prison space with the politicians, the chamber and lobbyist.

February 11, 2014 at 3:53 p.m.
hotdiggity said...

Soakya, this is how they "create" jobs in the South. Throw taxpayers money at companies as they compete in the race to the bottom.

February 11, 2014 at 5:54 p.m.
gypsylady said...

Watson and McCormick both showed more than their cards. It's ironic that we handed over the taxpayer funded incentives because of some made up multiplier effect but boy you start talking about higher wages around here, and the multiplier effect that comes from increased wages isn't mentioned. I'm still waiting for the full page ad from Ramsey and Corker, Coppinger and all the rest thanking the tax payers for bringing companies here. Usually they just thank each other and the freeloader Chamber.

February 11, 2014 at 9:26 p.m.
TheCommander said...

Soakya and hotdiggity are both correct. How arrogant and out of touch for Bo Watson to make the claim that the citizens of Tennessee were in favor of the 500 million dollars given to VW as incentives. No one even knew about it!! If put to a vote of the people, this VW deal would never have gotten 25% of the vote (and I think that is generous).

How out of control are politicians of both parties who believe our tax money is theirs to hand out to any corporation? This is completely beyond the role of government.

Hotdiggity is correct.It is a race to the bottom. The more our Tennessee government has tried to be the solution, the worse off we are: More public/private partnerships yield more debt, more corruption, lower wages, and a lower labor participation rate.

Should our politicians and the Chamber of Commerce members go to prison for misappropriation of our tax base when these companies fail to live up to the big promises? Look at the companies who have gotten PILOT agreements: Alstom, Whirlpool, Wacker, Hemlock (to name a few). None have lived up to the promises and no one is held accountable.

Good question Soakya. I hope Cook is busy formulating an answer to you. Cook needs to remember that as we give out incentives to lure business, other cities and states with deeper pockets than us retaliate and we end up having to use our tax base to play defense. It becomes like the Hunger Games.

February 11, 2014 at 9:32 p.m.
TheCommander said...

Gypsylady, that is an excellent point you made about the so-called multiplier effect that has no basis in reality and is perpetrated by the Chamber of Commerce. This multiplier effect is a way to justify every PILOT, TIF or other incentive agreement.

February 11, 2014 at 9:50 p.m.
TheCommander said...

soakya, In Cook you clearly see the hypocrisy as you allude to in your question to him that he won't answer:

He sees the threats and bullying of politicians of the one party he doesn't like (party means nothing to me so I am certainly not defending the clowns he attacks) but he can't see the bullying and intimidation by VW and other corporations with their veiled threats of relocation if they don't get what they want. What's worse is the way this newspaper is used as a tool of these corporations and the Chamber to get their ransom demands communicated to us.

February 11, 2014 at 10:07 p.m.
gypsylady said...

It's not just relatively new companies benefitting from PILOTS. Companies that have been here for decades are getting them. I suppose they'll threaten to leave if they have to pay full property tax. Some communities, elsewhere in the nation, have started doing rigorous cost/benefit studies of what these businesses will actually COST them and don't have a problem telling Hand Out, Inc. to take a hike. We won't do it, partially because there are ancillary development development deals for those "risk takers" who happen to be in the right place and the right time with the right connections. We will be left holding the bag.

February 11, 2014 at 10:30 p.m.
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