:Chattanooga; :Dec 8, 2009; :North Georgia; :18

Labor challenges VW over lack of ‘local hire’

By Mike Pare mpare@timesfreepress.com

Online: Hear George Jones talk about Volunteers for Local Hire. Read previous Volkswagen stories. Comment.

    A group with organized labor ties asks today in a newspaper advertisement if Tennessee politicians are “selling out” the state’s work force because they didn’t insist that Volkswagen hire local contractors and workers to build its plant here.

    But VW officials said local hiring and spending continue to increase as the plant takes shape, noting that it already has contracted for more than $500 million with local and Tennessee firms.

    Hans-Herbert Jagla, executive vice president of human resources for VW’s Chattanooga operations, said the automaker is “walking the talk.”

    The ad by Volunteers for Local Hire said politicians who negotiated with VW failed to include a “local hire” mandate to ensure Tennessee contractors and workers perform all the plant construction.

    The ad also noted that almost $600 million worth of government incentives were provided to the company in the effort to attract VW.

    “If Tennessee is going to do economic development, why don’t they have some requirements for using state money and using local contractors and workers on these projects?” asked George Jones, a spokesman for the group.

    And the ad said eyewitness accounts from the VW assembly plant job site show there are many out-of-state contractors and workers, including foreign workers, building the Chattanooga factory.

    The automaker said firms in Tennessee and within a 150-mile radius of Chattanooga are receiving more than $340 million for plant construction and $178.5 million for components to build the midsized sedan slated for the factory.

    In addition, when hiring the plant’s 1,200-member production work force, preference is being given to qualified Tennessee residents in the Hamilton County region, VW officials said.

    Mr. Jones said Volunteers for Local Hire is “a local community-based organization” with a lot of union membership. The AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department also is involved in the group, he said, but he added that the issue isn’t just a union one.

    U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, RTenn., said in a statement that he is excited about the impact that Volkswagen and its suppliers will have on the community and region for decades to come.

    But he had less-favorable things to say about Volunteer for Local Hire’s ad.

    “Based on my work in Washington, this is exactly what I’ve come to expect from a group organized and funded by the D.C. division of the AFL-CIO,” he said.

    U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, RTenn., said the Chattanooga area has a highly skilled, well-qualified building trade work force.

    “From the beginning of this great Tennessee investment, my hope was that our regional contractors and workers would be given first consideration at the Volkswagen plant,” he said.

    County Mayor Claude Ramsey said he remains committed to providing as many local jobs as possible, not only at VW but at all local growing businesses.

    April Eidson of the group Hire Here said it supports efforts to encourage using local people for local work, though it’s not working with Volunteers for Local Hire.

    “Hire Here believes strongly that this is not the time to be attacking our local and state officials, but to be working with them,” she said.