Union jobs, Ford plant deal hover Legislature’s special session

By: - October 18, 2021 12:28 pm
Gov. Bill Lee, third from right, with Ford Motor Co. CEO, to his right, and Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Bob Rolfe, to Ford's right, at Monday's announcement of the Ford Blue Oval Campus. (Photo: Gov. Bill Lee official Facebook page)

Gov. Bill Lee, third from right, with Ford Motor Co. CEO, to his right, and Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Bob Rolfe, to Ford’s right, at Monday’s announcement of the Ford Blue Oval Campus. (Photo: Gov. Bill Lee official Facebook page)

Tennessee lawmakers are hours away from considering $883 million worth of incentives to land a Ford electric truck and battery plant, and questions about unionization and deal making are clouding the debate.

State Rep. Robin Smith, a Hamilton County Republican, sent a letter to Gov. Bill Lee late last week questioning the specifics of the United Auto Workers’ relationship with Ford and a statement that the new facility “would be a union plant.” She also sought information on clawback provisions for incentives related to the Ford plant slated for what is to be dubbed Blue Oval City at the Memphis Regional Megasite, in addition to discussions and conditions for workforce laws and policies.

Smith sent her letter before the state finally posted legislation on its website over the weekend that will make the Ford deal reality. That information led her to send a follow-up letter complaining that the project will cost nearly double the $500 million price tag attached to it by Gov. Lee almost a month ago. cial in Nashville, though, has said he fully expects the plant to have a union presence.

Gov. Lee has said only that he expects workers at the Ford facility to have a choice on whether they join a union. Under Tennessee’s Right to Work law, which could be enshrined in the Constitution in 2022, employees cannot be compelled to join a union, even though they can receive the same pay and benefits as union members.

Center for Union Facts contends the UAW should not be allowed to organize at the facility.

“Ford should absolutely bring auto jobs and opportunity to Tennessee – just without the UAW’s long track record of corruption. After a federal investigation found 11 high ranking union officials guilty – including two former presidents who only just started serving their prison sentences – the union has a long way to go to regain members’ trust,” the group’s spokeswoman Charlyce Bozzello said in a statement.

The AFL-CIO held a Region 8 gathering in Nashville on Monday. UAW officials did not respond immediately to questions about the campaign to stop unionization.

Of Tennessee’s three automotive plants, one has union representation, the General Motors facility in Spring Hill, while Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant and Smyrna’s Nissan manufacturing facility are non-union.

Fred Redmond, AFL-CIO secretary treasurer urged his colleagues Monday to continue the fight for organized labor to obtain protection from discrimination and equal pay for equal work.

“Most in Tennessee are denied the power to negotiate,” Redmond said at the Tennessee AFL-CIO’s 32nd Biennial Convention.

Looking ahead?

While some Republican lawmakers are worried about unionization at the plant, others are focused on a COVID-19-related special session that could be held in late October to deal with several matters related to the virus.

Rep. Rusty Grills or Dresden has sponsored legislation that would allow unemployment claims for those who are fired for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

President Joe Biden has said he plans to require companies with more than 100 workers to mandate vaccinations, drawing a firestorm of criticism from Republican lawmakers.

In addition, Republican leaders want to clamp down on independent boards of health in the state’s urban counties and keep school boards from requiring masks for students.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s office has said it already has enough commitments to gain 66 signatures needed to call a special session. Such a move is needed since Gov. Lee has shown no inclination to call yet another session.

The Senate, however, had not gained the 22 votes needed, as of late last week, to call a special session, even though the upper chamber expects to reach that number.


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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.