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Corker fends off UAW critics ,Union workers blame senator for endangering jobs at Tenn. GM plant

Corker fends off UAW critics

Union workers blame senator for endangering jobs at Tenn. GM plant

CHATTANOOGA – Leaders of the United Auto Workers in Tennessee blamed U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on Friday for jeopardizing thousands of jobs at the General Motors Corp. plant in Spring Hill.

While Corker said Friday that he is doing everything he can to keep Spring Hill open, Local 1853 President Mike O’Rourke said the senator has "turned his back" on 2,100 union workers who will lose their jobs if GM closes the assembly plant.

Corker played a central role in the collapse of bailout talks between automakers and the federal government last year by pushing the UAW to agree to wage and benefit concessions.

Regional UAW official Gary Casteel said that stance alienated the domestic auto companies and means Corker doesn’t have any influence with GM to save the Spring Hill jobs.

"If we survive this thing with Spring Hill intact it will be in spite of Bob Corker," Casteel said Friday. "I don’t know of any senator who did as much to hurt the chances of keeping an assembly plant open in a state they represent."

Corker said the criticism of him is "purely UAW politics."

O’Rourke warned union members this week to prepare for GM to close the Middle Tennessee assembly plant that builds the Chevrolet Traverse, saying its survival is a "coin flip."

The union leaders said they could find out as soon as Tuesday if the Spring Hill plant is among 16 that GM plans to close.

Corker, the lone Republican elected to the Senate in 2006, soared into the national media spotlight during debate on the government’s bailout of the auto industry, even to the point of now being mentioned in GOP circles as a possible presidential candidate. As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, he unsuccessfully pushed the UAW to accept major wage and benefit reductions, but without the government taking ownership of the financially struggling auto companies.

Corker said Friday he is working as closely as anyone with President Barack Obama’s auto task force and with auto industry executives on behalf of workers at the Spring Hill plant. He also pointed a finger at the union.

"First of all, I know tensions are running high and we are all anxious," Corker said. "I really think it is sad the way some UAW members are trying to make political hay out of this."

Mike Herron, the chairman of UAW Local 1853’s bargaining committee, said his union does have differences with Corker, particularly at the national level.

But Herron credited Corker for championing the productivity of Spring Hill workers and said the Republican from Chattanooga "appears to be doing everything he can" to save the plant.


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