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Union defeat at VW plant: NLRB shouldn't muzzle community leaders, Corker says

At a wide-ranging Monitor Breakfast meeting with reporters, Bob Corker, the ranking senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, also voiced concern over Russia and Ukraine.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Senator Bob Corker, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee speaks at the Monitor Breakfast meeting with reporters on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee was elected to the Senate in 2006, and serves as the ranking senator on the Committee on Foreign Relations and on the Banking Committee. He is the former mayor of Chattanooga, Tenn. He spoke to the Feb. 27 Monitor breakfast:

On the recent vote by auto workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga to reject unionization, and the appeal of the vote filed by the United Auto Workers with the National Labor Relations Board. The UAW alleges that “interference by politicians,” including Senator Corker, and “outside special interest groups” swayed the election:

“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 … was if the plant was organized…. I made the statement that I was assured that even if the UAW did not win, that Chattanooga was still its [VW’s] first choice…. I hope that the UAW’s appeal, with President Obama weighing in on the same vote, if you remember, hoping that they would organize, while voting was still taking place, I hope that the National Labor Relations Board will understand and realize the magnitude of what they’re going to be deciding and in no way will try to muzzle public officials who are community leaders from expressing their point of view.”

On whether Corker’s comments during the vote amounted to intimidation of workers and influenced the vote:

“It’s been widely reported that when I made those comments, 1,000 votes [out of 1,300] had already been cast.… The biggest impact, candidly, were those people on the ground inside the plant, the employees, that knew, that understood, that the UAW was only there for one reason: dues, survival. There was nothing, nothing that the UAW could offer them to enhance [their] or their families’ lives.”

On what the United States can do about the upheaval in Ukraine as Russia conducts military exercises nearby:

“I continue to be concerned that we’re going to see a replay of what we saw in Georgia [in 2008, when Russia sent in tanks and used artillery], because I think [Russia’s] interest there, candidly, are even more important to Russia than was the case, certainly, in Georgia.… [Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs] Victoria Nuland …with what she has to work with, is doing an outstanding job.…

“The question will be, can the West, the United Kingdom and the United States, act quickly enough, but also responsibly, to deal with many of the financial issues that exist there…. Can we get the IMF reform process moving along quickly enough that we feel comfortable with loan guarantees and the other kinds of things that the economy needs? And in the interim, can we make those proclamations, statements – can we show strength in the region to try to deter Russia from doing other things that are either soft partitioning of the country or candidly doing something more aggressive militarily? What we don’t want to do is raise tensions in the area.”

On whether the US will revisit the option of force in Syria now that the diplomatic process has ground to a halt?

I saw [US Secretary of State John] Kerry in Davos [Switzerland]. That was happening … at the same general time these [Syria] negotiations were taking place in Geneva.…[He said] we’re looking at something that’s really going to change the balance on the ground. [Senators] continue to ask what that might be….

I’ve been in the [refugee] camps … and have told them, look, help’s on the way. Our country is going to arm the vetted moderate rebels. We’re going to continue more strongly the humanitarian efforts. Those things just haven’t occurred…. I do think we need to continue to look at what that might mean, what we might do in that regard. I’m very disappointed in the administration on Syria…. Many people in the administration are disappointed with the fact that there hasn’t been a coherent policy. I think it’s far more difficult for us to change the balance on the field, on the ground right now in Syria…. This is now a regional conflict where every single one of our intelligence officials tells you that this is now becoming a security interest to the United States. This is a place where jihadists are concentrating. This is a place that over time is going to create the same kind of risk to our country that other places like Afghanistan have done in the past.

On the efforts in the Senate to attach Iran sanctions to a bill on veterans:

“When you have a leader [Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada] that is totally bent on insuring that there is no debate, you’re going to find people using all kinds of avenues to try to bring something to the floor for debate…. Sen. Reid is unwilling for his majority members to be in a position of taking tough votes…. We have the biggest foreign relations issue facing our nation that has come about in recent times and we’re saying the United States Senate can’t debate that on the floor?…. I think that is totally reprehensible… If the president doesn’t like what the Senate, what the House of Representatives has to say on Iran, he can veto it.”

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