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U.S. senator says labor board should not 'muzzle' lawmakers

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) speaks to reporters during the 14th day of the partial government shut down in Washington on October 14, 2013. REU
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) speaks to reporters during the 14th day of the partial government shut down in Washington on October 14, 2013. REU

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tennessee Senator Bob Corker called on federal authorities on Thursday not to muzzle lawmakers who are opposed to union organizing as they consider the United Auto Workers' appeal of a failed effort to represent workers at a Volkswagen plant in his state

Saying Corker and other politicians interfered in the vote, the UAW filed an objection with the National Labor Relations Board to the result of the February 12-14 election, in which workers at VW's Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant voted to reject union representation.

The Republican senator, a former Chattanooga mayor, issued a statement during the vote saying he had had conversations that led him to believe VW would manufacture a new sport utility vehicle in Chattanooga if workers rejected the union.

Corker said the NLRB would be making a potential "landmark" decision. The board has ruled repeatedly, when Democrats voiced support for unions, that public officials properly exercised their right to free speech, he said.

"I hope that the NLRB will understand and realize the magnitude of what they are going to be deciding and in no way will try to muzzle public officials who are community leaders from expressing their point of view," he said during a meeting with reporters organized by the Christian Science Monitor.

Corker noted that President Barack Obama had also waded into the fight by accusing skeptical politicians of being "more concerned about German shareholders than American workers.

Corker said he spoke out to counteract misinformation from the auto workers union. "The UAW had been spreading rumors that the only way a new SUV line was going to come to the plant and double its size, the only way that was going to happen was if the plant was organized by the UAW," he said.

The UAW denies that organizers allowed into the plant in the week ahead of the vote's start said anything about needing a union vote result to bring the new product to the Chattanooga plant. Union officials say they have been consistent in saying the result of the vote would not affect VW's decision on where to place the new product.

Corker did not answer when asked if VW officials were the source of his comment about the company's plans for the SUV line.

He reiterated his harsh criticism of the UAW, among other things accusing it of trying to organize in Tennessee only to raise more dues money to shore up its flagging finances.

"I think it was very apparent the UAW was in Chattanooga for one reason - dollars," Corker said.

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit; editing by Stephen Powell and Matthew Lewis)

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