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United States Senator Bob Corker spent an hour speaking with members of the Manchester Area Chamber of Commerce last Tuesday at the Coffee County Administrative Plaza, covering a myriad of regional and national topics – ranging from recent controversy at Volkswagen to the United States’ roll in Ukraine.
Corker spent his opening remarks focusing on the recent United Auto Workers vote at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant – a vote that pulled Corker into the national spotlight after UAW accused him of outside interference in the union election, which ultimately failed 712-626.
“Everything I said [about Volkswagen] I believe to be 1,000 percent true,” Corker reiterated to the chamber.
The UAW filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board citing threats from Corker in relation to promises he made of a new product line awarded to the plant if workers voted against UAW representation.
Corker highlighted his involvement in luring VW to Tennessee and said that UAW was using intimidation to influence workers.
“It took a long time to get things right,” Corker explained. “Actually, I would fly home from the Senate floor and have dinner with [Volkswagen representatives] in my home in Chattanooga. I had involvement with VW from day one. I have been dealing with the CEO in Germany all of this time.
“UAW came in and tried to actually do something called card check. They were inside the plant and in lieu of there being an election they were going to do it by card check. That’s not a secret ballot for what it’s worth and sometimes undue pressure can come on people. We successfully talked to the company about secret ballot, which they did. Inside the plant UAW spread rumors that unless they unionized they wouldn’t build another assembly line.
“The UAW, and this is me talking, they were making it appear as if they only way the plant would expand was if they would unionize and I knew that not to be true.”
Corker also spent time taking question from business people in attendance and touched on topics from bank regulations to Ukraine, the Keystone Pipeline, defense spending and the White House Administration.
“It is against all international norm what Russia is doing [in Ukraine],” said Corker, who is a ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Going into Ukraine would take it to a whole new level.”
He added that the Obama Administration has been “a day late and a dollar short on so many foreign policy issues” before saying that “Ukraine is something that can greatly get out of hand.”
Included in the list of recent U.S. sanctions against Russia have been frozen travel plans and frozen personal assets of approximately 40 officials. The U.S. has also targeted powerful figures close to Russian President Vladimir Putin – namely Yuri Kovalchuk, thought to be Putin’s personal financier – and powerful business Bank Rossiya. The sanctions have hit Russian markets noticeably, something Corker expected.
“Sanctions can take a while to have an effect. But the signal they send to the economy is immediate,” said Corker, who added that the sanctions would affect trade here.
Coffee County Commissioner Rush Bricken, who also works at Coffee County Bank, took the conversation with Corker into the banking industry, which deals with notable government regulations.
“The problem with regulation in our country is it is such a hard issue to deal with,” explained Corker. “Both sides of the isle have failed miserably. If we can get past this election I do think there will be some effort to relieve some of the burden on smaller banking institutions.”
Corker also added that “small bankers have more influence than the big banks.”
In regard to military spending, which has been a big news item in recent months with large cuts to the defense budget, Corker offered a two-parts answer – saying resources are needed but the Pentagon must do better with its budget.
“We need to make sure these [military] men and women have the resources they need. We need to speak softly but carry a big stick,” said Corker. “The Pentagon has to do a better job. They can’t even audit their purchases. In 2014, who doesn’t do that?”