A key voice in the unionization battle at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tenn., plant was once forced to settle a slander suit for his role in a vile mudslinging campaign in Michigan.
Joe DiSano, a political consultant in Michigan, has turned his attention to the United Auto Workers organizing campaign in Tennessee. DiSano is the man behind the Center for VW Facts, a website that highlights wrongdoing accusations and other negative publicity for the German-based automaker. He accused VW of waging a "deceptive campaign to discourage employees" from becoming the first UAW plant in the right-to-work state in a May 19 launch announcement.
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DiSano would know a thing or two about "deceptive" campaigns. During a 2012 Democratic primary for a Michigan statehouse seat, he circulated a robocall accusing one of the candidates of "using the internet to lure young girls into nude modeling sessions at his home," where he took "dirty pictures in his basement." The target of those robocalls lost the race and later filed a defamation suit seeking to clear his name. A judge dismissed DiSano's First Amendment defense and the two parties settled. As part of the settlement agreement DiSano agreed to circulate a new robocall correcting the previous mudslinging and issue public apologies in two newspapers.
DiSano did not respond to requests for comment.
The Center for VW Facts emphasizes on its page that it is "not affiliated with the United Auto Workers or any labor organization," although DiSano is a member of UAW Local 1981, the National Writers Union. UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said the union had no knowledge about the website. The center of the campaign, he said, should be the workers of Tennessee who do not enjoy the same representation that their colleagues in Europe do.
"We were unaware of the launch of Center for VW facts and the UAW is not funding it," he said. "Chattanooga workers deserve the opportunity to have the same workplace voice as all other VW workers in the world. It’s about Chattanooga workers—period."
DiSano's mission has chafed local Chattanooga residents. Anti-UAW workers and other locals formed Southern Momentum to highlight their satisfaction with VW as an employer and spotlighted UAW scandals in their own literature to dissuade workers from joining. Maury Nicely, a local employment law attorney, serves as the group's spokesman. He said DiSano's mudslinging is likely to alienate workers.
"The Center for VW Facts, this has been very upsetting for our community, people who are glad to have VW here," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "It's a shame people of that ilk are coming into Chattanooga."
The union has raised questions about Southern Momentum's claims as a grassroots movement. Nicely said the group receives support and funding from local workers, as well as local businesses that support having the plant there. Nicely said the group was created in the wake of VW's pledge to remain neutral in the campaign.
VW did not respond to request for comment.
Chattanooga has been at the center of UAW's push to represent workers in right-to-work states in the south. Employees voted against joining the UAW by a 712-626 margin in a 2014 vote. The union has since launched several contested bids to represent portions of the plant, including a 2015 bid that only focused on organizing skilled workers.
Workers at the Chattanooga plant are scheduled to begin voting on June 12.