By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Bob Corker on Thursday defended wading into a labor union organizing campaign at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant, saying it would have been irresponsible to remain silent about possible production plans at the automaker's facility related to the union vote.
On Wednesday, Corker issued a statement saying that he had "conversations" that led him to believe that if VW employees voted against representation by the United Auto Workers union at the Tennessee VW plant, "Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga."
Frank Fischer, chairman and chief executive officer of Volkswagen Chattanooga, has denied that the vote and the product decision are connected. Volkswagen headquarters in Germany declined further comment and referred to Fischer's statement.
Corker, however, defended his own statement on Thursday. "For someone like me who has been as involved in the community for years, to not make that known is actually not responsible," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The two-term Republican senator said he was not making any predictions about what would happen to production at the Chattanooga plant if the UAW were to win the election that is wrapping up on Friday.
"I'm not saying anything about what happens on the other side of it," Corker said.
Asked if he would lobby for the new production line if the UAW wins, Corker responded, "I think what I want to do after this vote is over is take a deep breath and let what's happened over the last couple weeks decompress and see where things are."
He added, "The most important thing as a public official, you want to make sure the people you represent have great paying jobs."
Corker added, "If this happens, if the union is embraced, I do think it's going to hurt our efforts."
He refused to provide any details on the persons who had led him to believe that a defeat of the UAW organizing effort would prompt an announcement on new production at Chattanooga.
"I've been dealing with VW for I guess five years now at every level of the company. We also deal with folks, others that are dealing with the company," Corker said.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)