May 28, 2024

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In Labor’s mission to organize the South, another domino may soon fall

In Labor’s mission to organize the South, another domino may soon fall

Late last month, workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, voted overwhelmingly to join the United Auto Workers (UAW). It was the first time workers at a foreign auto plant had joined a union in the southern United States, the least unionized region in the country. A UAW victory could have major implications for workers across the South, who are governed by labor laws that weaken unions and drive down wages. Next, workers at the Mercedes-Benz facility in Vance, Alabama, will vote on whether to join the UAW starting in May 13The outcome could help determine whether the union’s success in Tennessee will have a domino effect on other workplaces in the region.

Union density in Tennessee Swirling around 6% Other states have lower union density: Virginia A little more 4%North Carolina is under 3% South Carolina has the lowest union density in the country, with only slightly more unions 2% of workers. All these countries are Right to Work,” which union members and organizers say is a misnomer. In fact, right-to-work laws — which prohibit union security agreements (meaning unionized workplaces are prohibited from requiring all workers to pay union dues) — make unions weaker and smaller.

This new wave of organizing would not be the first time unions have seriously tried to organize workers in labor-unfriendly states. in the middle-1940The Conference of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was launched. “Operation Dixie” hoped to unite Southern workers, especially those in the textile industry. Their goal was not only to improve the lives of Southern workers or grow their ranks, but also to maintain union power in the North, as industries had begun to move to the South due to a lack of union density. But Operation Dixie failed largely because of racist Jim Crow laws and other racial conflicts in the area, the legacies of which workers are still dealing with today.

Leonard Riley, A 48One-year member of the local International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA). 1422 In Charleston, South Carolina, he says In these times, Our Governor Henry McMaster says, Come to South Carolina, we work for less. This is how you market your state? Reilly refers in part to A Joint statement It was issued by the governors of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi and South Carolina ahead of union elections at the Volkswagen plant, which said… Unions would certainly put our states’ jobs at risk.

The lack of union density has created a feedback loop: workers may not know what a union is or may not know any union members, and lack experience in what union organizers call “Union difference,” that is, the ways in which unions materially improve people’s lives. (On average, union members earn 14% more than non-union workers. They’re also more likely to get benefits like employer-provided health care and a pension.) Reilly says: When you live a certain way your whole life, you become accustomed to not having the things you should have. When you achieve a victory like the UAW’s in Chattanooga, one that survived intimidation by bosses and public pressure, it allows all workers to see what they deserve.

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This is not the first time the UAW has tried to organize at Volkswagen. The union campaigned in 2014 And 2019He failed both times, even though the previous elections were 2014And the number of votes 712626and in 2019He was 833776. But the political terrain has changed dramatically over the past decade, with workers taking action against powerful employers like Starbucks and Amazon; Participation in high-profile strikes, e.g 75,000 Employees at Kaiser Permanente last year; And the truth of that Unions have had their highest approval rating since then 1965.

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Auto workers specifically have seen new and transformative leadership at the UAW since reformist Sean Fine took office as president early last year, along with historic victories at the Big Three following the union’s victory. stand upUAW members at Daimler Truck North America — which manufactures, sells and services several commercial vehicles in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee — narrowly avoided a strike and won a tentative agreement before the contract expired at midnight Friday, April. 26. The agreement includes ending wage levels, profit sharing, inflation protection, and record wage increases, and in May 4 The workers ratified the agreement. This victory, another in the South, could also help inspire other workers in the region to organize.

Union organizing in the South increased despite formidable obstacles, including anti-labor legal systems, right-to-work laws, widespread union-busting tactics, and staunchly anti-union politicians, and each victory improved organizing conditions for workers throughout the region. . Kelly Coward, a registered nurse at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, helped organize her union after HCA Healthcare bought the hospital in 2019. Coward, who was born and raised in North Carolina, had no personal experience with unions, although she knew nurses in other states were unionized. I have worked at Mission for over 20 For years he was satisfied before selling it to a for-profit company, which is when things started to change.

That’s when we saw a big difference. “Jobs were being cut, and we didn’t have the equipment we needed,” Coward says. In these times. We knew we needed to do something.” Her co-workers called National Nurses United, and they continued to do so. Winning their union elections at Mission by 70% in September 2020Becoming the first hospital in the private sector to join unions in the state.

The victory in Asheville was a boon to the NNU, which continued to organize its nurses Austin, Texas in 2022 And New Orleans, Louisiana in 2023. North Carolina has also seen other union victories in recent years including Duke College in 2016, Duke graduate workers in 2023 (both campaigns I worked on), and Durham REI workers in 2023along with more escalating union action by public sector workers in the state, such as sanitation workers at United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) are local 150 Who went on an illegal strike in 2023 Protest against low wages.

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Ben Carroll, organizational coordinator for the Southern Workers’ Association (SWA), says: The victory for Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga is nothing short of electrifying. It gives confidence and momentum to many workers across the South who are organizing themselves and building power in their workplaces, and it sends a strong message to the rest of the labor movement that the South can and will organize.

Sawa was founded 12 For years, he has been working to coordinate the organization of workers throughout the region, and help them engage in collective action. Their goal is to share lessons among workers in the region, develop infrastructure for everyday workers, and support those who organize through the NLRB and beyond. Carroll says In these times, We hope that the rest of the labor movement will follow the inspiring leadership of the UAW and muster the resources necessary to take advantage of this opening and organizing in the South.

The UAW continues to build on the momentum of its wins over the Big Three. In addition to employees of Volkswagen and Mercedes, Hyundai workers in Alabama It also launched a union organizing campaign, with more than 30Percentage of workers who signed union authorization cards. The UAW has made clear it plans to organize All non-union auto plants in the area.

Mercedes worker and member of the volunteer organizing committee, Jeremy Kimbrel, has worked at the Alabama plant for nearly a year 25 years, and also participated in organizing previous leadership campaigns there. Kimbrel says In these times that despite living in an anti-Union state all his life, for me [parents] It instilled in me that you don’t let people treat you any way. My father was a member of the coal miners union, and his grandfather worked in the coal miners union 30s or 40A coal truck crossing the picket line had been shot at, so I never doubted the power of the union.

But with union elections at Mercedes approaching, and after the UAW’s landslide victory at Volkswagen, Alabama bosses and politicians are beginning to raise their union-busting profile. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey Published on X (formerly Twitter), “The UAW is not the good guy here,” he called out the union “Corrupt, cunning, and a dangerous leech.” Ivey also wrote Editorial Which reads, in part, Alabama’s model of economic success is under attack. A national labor union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), is stepping up efforts to target non-union automakers across the United States, including our own here in Alabama. Former Mercedes CEO Michael Goble, who He resigned from his position late last monthalso came out against the union, as did special interest business groups, which paid for anti-union billboards near the plant and created anti-union websites.

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“Politicians say they represent the people, but then they say workers don’t deserve their fair share of work. And that doesn’t work.” —UAW President Sean Fein

Mercedes workers aren’t just fighting their boss, or competing with an unfriendly political landscape, they’re facing both, and neither can change without the other. Carroll says so It is not difficult to attribute the reactionary policies that dominate the region to a lack of working class organization and strength. It is difficult to win this kind of power when political conditions are highly charged. But workers continue to fight, and hope to silence the noise from right-wing politicians and the Alabama Business Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, which Opinion articles against the union And even Created a website, “Alabama Strong,” which states that the automobile industry in Alabama The future is threatened by a UAW attack that seeks to impose the union’s way of doing things on your life.

UAW President Fine He doesn’t master words When referring to the Governor of Alabama and the State Business Council: These people are nothing but puppets of corporate America and the billionaire class, and they are the reason why workers do not get their fair share. Politicians say they represent the people, but then they say workers don’t deserve their fair share of the work. this is not working.

Isaac Meadows, who has worked at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant for about two years and is a member of the organizing committee, says of the unionization effort in Tennessee: It was a lot of hard work, but it was worth it. Mercedes is in a tougher fight than we had. Often times you feel like you are alone, fighting alone, but you are not. There’s a lot of support, at home and abroad, so keep fighting, keep up the good work, it’s worth it in the end.

Ahead of the vote, which may ultimately be another domino in Labour’s plan to organize the south, Meadows says In these times What Mercedes workers want to know, this is not [the politicians’] resolution. It’s our decision. They do not work in these plants. I invited any of these governors, come work alongside me for a day and see what I do. So far, none of them have taken me up on this matter.”