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Organize The South To Change A Nation

Organize The South NN14Organize The South

“The only way to win economic justice in America is to organize the South,” according to MaryBe McMillian, Secretary-Treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.

During this year’s Netroots Nation, one panel discussion focused on how labor and progressive organizations are building a movement to effect real social change in America.

Those of us in the labor movement often think of “organizing” as recruiting new members to join our union ranks. While organizing workers is a crucial part of “organizing the South”, the panel’s broader message is that we need to organize people to push for progressive values.

Reverend Dr. William Barber explained what these progressive values are in a recent speech at the AFT convention. He repeated them as he spoke at Netroots Nation:

  1. Rev Dr William Barber NN14Protecting workers and their rights to organize and form unions.
  2. Protecting women’s health and reproductive rights and the rights of the LBGT community.
  3. Protecting our Constitutional right to vote, making it easier for everyone to vote.
  4. Strengthening our public education system.
  5. Ensuring everyone has access to affordable healthcare.

For example, progressive organizations in North Carolina are coming together in weekly protest marches, in what they call “Moral Mondays.” McMillian explained “We have been successful in organizing multiple groups to participate in Moral Mondays because we are all under attack.”

“The South has always been ground zero for the civil rights movement,” Planned Parenthood Federation’s Carol McDonald told the Netroots Nation audience, before describing some of the most legislative “wins” that came from the Moral Mondays movement.

To effect real economic change throughout the United States, we have to stop the exploitation of workers in the South. “Organizing workers from Texas to North Carolina, we will change the South and in turn change the nation,” said McMillian.

UAW and VW

The UAW Fight For VW

In recent years, labor unions throughout the South have been working to organize workers like Will Branch, an employee at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga TN who was part of the panel discussion.

Inside the facility, UAW’s organizing efforts were welcomed by both workers and plant managers. In Germany, all of Volkswagen’s plants are unionized. They have “works councils” where labor leaders meet with mangers to discuss plans to make the plant more efficient, to make a better product, and how they can make sure that the needs of both sides are satisfied. This is exactly the type of labor-management relations that Volkswagen was trying to build in Chattanooga.

“With a local works council, workers would have a voice they can use to make Volkswagen stronger; in safety, job security and efficiency,” said Jonathan Walden, Volkswagen paint technician. “Global representation means Chattanooga workers may have a strong voice in seeking new products and bringing more jobs to Tennessee.”

Despite Volkswagen’s encouragement of the organizing efforts of the United Auto Workers, many of the local politicians were not so happy.

  • Misleading stories ran in the local media, hinting that if the workers voted for the union, their plant could be closed. (This of course was news to Volkswagen, who tried to reassure workers and their new community that they were here to stay.)
  • U.S. Senator Bob Corker made outrageous claims that VW would only expand their plant if workers rejected the union.
  • Tennessee’s Governor Bill Haslan offered $300 million dollars of taxpayer money, in the form of an “incentive” to Volkswagen, provided that the plant was not unionized.

“It’s essentially saying, ‘If you unionize, it’s going to hurt your economy. Why? Because I’m going to make sure it does,’” said Volkswagen worker Lauren Feinauer. “I hope people see it for the underhanded threat that it is.”

“Politicians subjected Volkswagen workers to a two-week barrage of anti-UAW propaganda, outright lies, distortions, and threats about the viability of their plant.  [T]heir allies… refused to reveal their funding sources and …openly republished the illicit threats in the media and among the Volkswagen workforce,” the UAW said in a written statement.

The union representation election process resulted in a National Labor Relations Board challenge, which was dropped the UAW and Volkswagen announced that they have created “UAW Local 42”, a new union local that will represent the workers at the newly created works council.

“What is best for the worker, is what is best for the company,” VW employee Will Branch told the Netroots Nation audience. “It is not the money that keeps America going, it is us, the workers.”

(That sentiment on full display in the Market Basket protests, here in New England.)

Raise Up NC (@MoralMonday Twitter)

Raise Up NC (@MoralMonday Twitter)

Workers Unite For A Living Wage

Throughout the country, workers have begun to take collective action to highlight the fact that they are being abused and underpaid.

For instance, “Raise Up for $15” is working to organize low wage workers, mostly in fast food restaurants, to push for a living wage.

Cherri Delesline has worked at McDonalds for nearly a decade to support her family. She told the crowd at Netroots Nation, “After ten years with McDonalds, I only make a little more than I did when I started.” Delesline went on to say, “Mangers at my store only make a little more than $8.00 an hour.”

Do the math. A minimum wage worker working full time only makes $15,500 a year. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,850. These workers are working full time – and are still living in poverty.

These fast food workers are calling for North Carolina – and the country – to “Rise Up” by paying workers a $15 per hour minimum. Raise Up has also been working to help these fast food workers in their efforts to form unions. However, these workers are not waiting for the NLRB to say they are officially represented by a union, they are going “old school.” They are speaking out collectively, holding wildcat strikes and walkouts, until store management listens to their demands.

Their fight for a living wage is only just beginning. These workers are taking a big risk by stepping out against their employer, but they also know it is the right thing to do.

UFCW Logo

Organizing For Human Rights

In North Carolina, it is not just fast food workers who are seeing the benefits of union representation. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have been organizing at food processing plants throughout the state. They successfully organized the Smithfield Foods plant in 2008 after a decade-long campaign. Now they have turned their eyes to the Mountaire chicken processing plant, 20 miles down the road.

“Slaughterhouse work is particularly dangerous. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report states that poultry and slaughterhouse workers suffer on-the-job injuries and illnesses at a rate more than twice the national average,” wrote Aaron Lake Smith in an article for INDY Week.

The UFWC members from the Smithfield plant are using their free time to explain to the workers at the Mountaire plant just how much the union has changed their lives. But management at Mountaire is not taking this organizing drive sitting down. They are fighting back, using union busting firms and pushing the envelope of the legality of opposing workers’ right to organize. (Read the story of Isom, who is a present-day version of “Norma Rae”)

For more than a decade, the Farm Laborers Organizing Committee (FLCO-AFLCIO) has been locked in a heated battle with R.J. Reynolds over the slave-like treatment of workers who harvest their tobacco.

“While big tobacco corporations make billions, tobacco farm workers live in poverty, face racism, harassment, nicotine poisoning, lethal pesticides, miserable housing in labor camps and denial of basic human rights and labor protections,” the FLOC wrote on their website.

The FLOC has chalked up a few wins, with contract agreements with Campbell’s Soup, produce growers in Michigan and Ohio, and the 2004 contract agreement with the North Carolina Growers Association – but R.J. Reynolds still eludes them.

Some people say that, “once upon a time unions were needed to protect workers, but we have laws for that now.”

But listening to the workers in the fields, in the plants, and behind the counters, it is obvious that unions are needed now more than ever. These corporations are not just blatantly violating workers’ organizing rights, they are violating their rights as humans. The unions are helping show workers they do not have to stand for this type of treatment, and to notify the public and regulatory agencies when these corporations are violating the law.

The South will not change overnight, but after decades of struggle, unions in the South are slowly rising again.

Image Donkey Hotey on FLCKR

Image DonkeyHotey on FLCKR

Overcoming Obstacles

The Netroots Nation panel discussed some of the significantly high hurdles that will need to be overcome while “organizing the South.”

“There are lots of barriers to our organizing efforts here in the South, but cannot let that deter us,” said MaryBe McMillian (Sec-Tres of the NC AFL-CIO).

“The biggest barrier to the organizing efforts in The South are the right wing politicians,” said Will Branch (UAW Local 42). “These politicians would use their religious beliefs to push their agenda.”

Right-wing religious groups are another major obstacle. Groups like “Right To Life” are working against women’s health and reproductive rights, explained Carol McDonald.  Someone once told me, “if you’re gonna play ball in the South, you have to know the rules of the game” – and then he pointed to the Bible.

This is exactly why the Moral Mondays movement has gained such a strong foothold. Rev. Barber is showing people through passages in the Bible, and passages from our Constitution, that what these right-wing extremists are doing goes against our faith, and against our democracy.

Another of the major obstacles to overcome is race, with right-wing groups trying to pit one race against another, just like they try to pit the middle class family against the lower class family. “We are saying ‘NO’ to the race baiting by the right-wing politicians,” said MaryBe McMillian. “They are afraid of middle class white women standing with low income immigrant workers.”

McMillian talked about how they are using the diversity of the South to their organizing advantage. “African-American workers know the struggles of the new immigrant workers, and they are out educating others,” McMillian said.

“There is no need to fight each other, black, white, or brown, because we are all being mistreated by rich white men,” said Cherri Delesline, a McDonalds worker who was recently arrested when she marched on a McDonalds shareholders meeting demanding a living wage.

 

Bold and Progressive

To win back the South, we have to “be bold and think big,” said McMillian. “We need to unite people from all walks of life.”

McMillian was disappointed that some of the national labor unions and progressive organizations do not see the potential in organizing the South. “We will not only create a new south, but a new labor movement,” she said.

As they say at the closing of every Moral Monday event, “Forward Together, Not One Step Back!

 

 

Side note: MaryBe McMillian read an amazing poem called “Labor’s poem for a Moral March.” It is too long to include in this post, but here are the first few lines:


There’s too much corporate greed
And we have families to feed.

There are so few jobs, no decent wages.
Inequality tops the news pages.

UAW Withdraws Volkswagen Election Objections, Ending The NLRB Review

NLRB 1CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The UAW announced today it is withdrawing objections filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regarding February’s vote at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, effectively terminating the NLRB review process.

UAW President Bob King said the decision was made in the best interests of Volkswagen employees, the automaker, and economic development in Chattanooga. King said the UAW based its decision on the belief that the NLRB’s historically dysfunctional and complex process potentially could drag on for months or even years. Additionally, the UAW cited refusals by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker to participate in a transparent legal discovery process, which undermines public trust and confidence.

“The unprecedented political interference by Gov. Haslam, Sen. Corker and others was a distraction for Volkswagen employees and a detour from achieving Tennessee’s economic priorities,” King said. “The UAW is ready to put February’s tainted election in the rearview mirror and instead focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga.”

UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who directs the union’s Southern region, echoed that the UAW’s focus is advocating for Volkswagen to create more jobs in Tennessee by adding a new SUV line at the Chattanooga plant. The Haslam administration in August offered nearly $300 million in incentives to bring the new SUV to Chattanooga, but attempted to make the investment contingent on whether the Chattanooga plant is organized. The Haslam administration’s contingency is contrary to Volkswagen’s successful business model, which is premised on worker representation.

“The UAW wants to help create quality jobs and build world-class products for American consumers,” Casteel said. “With this in mind, we urge Gov. Haslam to immediately extend the incentives that previously were offered to Volkswagen for this new SUV line, and do so unconditionally.”

King said the UAW has accomplished a major goal with its election objections. “The UAW’s objections informed the public about the unprecedented interference by anti-labor politicians and third parties who want to prevent workers from exercising their democratic right to choose union representation,” he said.

King also said that outdated federal laws governing the NLRB never contemplated the level of extreme intimidation and interference that occurred in Chattanooga. Even if the NLRB ordered a new election — the board’s only available remedy under current law — nothing would stop politicians and anti-union organizations from again interfering.

Looking ahead, the UAW believes the congressional inquiry into the Haslam administration’s incentives threat to Volkswagen provides the best opportunity for additional scrutiny. The UAW will ask Congress to examine the use of federal funds in the state’s incentives threat, in order to protect Tennessee jobs and workers in the future.

“Frankly, Congress is a more effective venue for publicly examining the now well-documented threat,” King said. “We commend Congressmen George Miller and John Tierney for their leadership on this matter, and look forward to seeing the results of their inquiry.”

United Automobile Workers (UAW) has more than 390,000 members and more than 750 local unions across America. Since its founding in 1935, the UAW has developed partnerships with employers and supported industry-leading wages and benefits for its members. (FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Michele Martin, mmartin@uaw.net, (313) 926-5291 or    (313) 510-4269, or visit www.uaw.org/uawvw)

Following is a statement by the Communications Workers of America on the UAW withdrawing objections to the Volkswagen Election:

Washington, D.C. — The Communications Workers of America (CWA) stands with the United Auto Workers (UAW) as that union drops its objections to the NLRB representation election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Now the focus will shift to the congressional investigation into the third party anti-union campaign by elected officials, Grover Norquist and other outside groups.  Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and John Tierney (D-MA), the ranking Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee, are investigating the interference and the shortcomings of our outdated federal labor laws.

In our increasingly globalized world, large foreign multinational corporations are investing in facilities in the U.S.   Some, like Volkswagen, have been greeted by hostile outside campaigns to undermine workers’ right to collective bargaining, usually with cooperation by US management.  In many cases US management embraces anti-union tactics they shun at home, where unions often have recognition and respect. This case was unique in that VW management in Germany and at least officially in the US adopted extensive neutrality provisions which only inflamed outside agitators like Norquist even more.  In a similar case, CWA and the large German services union ver.di have been supporting T-Mobile employees’ struggle to organize for more than 10 years.  Unfortunately the principal owner Deutsche Telekom and US management are anything but neutral.

For all of us the issue remains: What are the rights of employees in a global economy?  Will the U.S. continue to operate at the low end on workers’ rights, accepting the fantasy land of Tennessee elected officials like Governor Haslam and U.S. Senator Corker that markets alone provide a fair outcome?  Or will we build a movement and a consensus that Corker, Haslam and Norquist are way out of bounds and that if we don’t stop them, there will continue to be growing inequality and a falling living standard for most of us in the U.S.?

 

United Auto Worker Say: NLRB Wrong To Allow Right-Wing Groups To Intervene In VW Vote

UAW and VWDETROIT –The UAW released the following statement in reaction to the NLRB ruling to let outside-funded groups participate in the hearing regarding the interference of state and federal politicians in the UAW election at Volkswagen in Chattanooga:

“It is an outrage that the Atlanta Region of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), deviating from the board’s own practice, is allowing groups with shadowy funding that are masquerading as legitimate worker representatives to participate in the process to determine whether the UAW election at Volkswagen was tainted by state and federal politicians’ threats of retaliation against workers if they exercised their right to choose UAW representation.

“Politicians subjected Volkswagen workers to a two-week barrage of anti-UAW propaganda, outright lies, distortions, and threats about the viability of their plant.  It is an outrage that their allies, who refused to reveal their funding sources and who openly republished the illicit threats in the media and among the Volkswagen workforce, will now be allowed to participate in the NLRB hearing.  They have mocked the NLRB process and have denigrated workers who are demanding that the federal government enforce their right to have an election free from outside interference.

“One of these groups, ‘Southern Momentum’ – an ally of outside groups like Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation – claims to be an organic group of Volkswagen workers who came together of their own accord to participate in the election campaign.  Instead, Southern Momentum, registered at a management law firm, disclosed after the election that in two weeks, it raised “funding in the low six figures” from “businesses and individuals” rather than Volkswagen workers, according to Reuters news service.

“With this secret business funding, this “grassroots” organization also hired one of the nation’s largest anti-union firms, Projections, to create propaganda for their anti-union campaign.  Southern Momentum neglected to publicly disclose these facts during the election campaign.”

Of Southern Momentum, the UAW reiterated, “Its money speaks louder than its words, but it does not speak for Volkswagen Chattanooga workers.”

The UAW plans to appeal the NLRB Region 10 ruling to full NLRB.

UAW appeals outside interference in union representation election for Chattanooga Volkswagen workers

UAW and VW

DETROIT, Mich. – The UAW filed an appeal (“objections”) with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) today related to the interference by politicians and outside special interest groups in the union representation election held last week at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant.

A firestorm of interference from politicians and special interest groups threatening the economic future of the plant occurred just before and during three days of voting in an election supervised by the NLRB. Workers voted narrowly to reject representation, with a slim 44 vote swing. The objections detail a coordinated and widely publicized coercive campaign conducted by politicians and outside organizations to deprive Volkswagen workers of their federally protected right to join a union.

The campaign included publicly-announced and widely disseminated threats by elected officials that state-financed incentives would be withheld if workers exercised their protected right to form a union.

“It’s essentially saying, ‘If you unionize, it’s going to hurt your economy. Why? Because I’m going to make sure it does,’” said Volkswagen worker Lauren Feinauer. “I hope people see it for the underhanded threat that it is.”

The campaign also included threats by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker related to promises of a new product line awarded to the plant if workers voted against UAW representation.

The objections state, “Senator Corker’s conduct was shameful and undertaken with utter disregard for the rights of the citizens of Tennessee and surrounding states that work at Volkswagen. … The clear message of the campaign was that voting for the union would result in stagnation for the Chattanooga plant, with no new product, no job security, and withholding of state support for its expansion.”

“It’s an outrage that politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that that would grow jobs in Tennessee,” said UAW President Bob King. “It is extraordinary interference in the private decision of workers to have a U.S. senator, a governor and leaders of the state legislature threaten the company with the denial of economic incentives and workers with a loss of product. We’re committed to standing with the Volkswagen workers to ensure that their right to have a fair vote without coercion and interference is protected.”

An affirmative vote for union representation at the Volkswagen plant would have led to the establishment of a works council that would have been the first such model of labor-management relations in the United States.

The NLRB will investigate the election conduct and determine whether there are grounds to set aside the election results and hold a new election for Volkswagen workers.

Volkswagen Workers To Vote On Union Representation

UAW and VWDETROIT –Volkswagen workers from the Chattanooga, Tenn., facility will vote in an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Feb. 12 – 14, 2014.  The NLRB set the election as a result of an agreement reached between Volkswagen Group of America (VWGOA) and the UAW.

The Chattanooga workers will decide whether the UAW can move forward with a new collaborative approach with VWGOA based on the principles of co-determination that would include the formation of a works council at its Chattanooga facility. This would be the first works council established in the United States.

“Volkswagen is known globally for its system of cooperation with unions and works councils,” said UAW President Bob King. “The UAW seeks to partner with VWGOA and a works council to set a new standard in the U.S. for innovative labor-management relations that benefits the company, the entire workforce, shareholders and the community. The historic success of the works council model is in line with the UAW’s successful partnerships with the domestic automakers and its vision of the 21st century union.”

Chattanooga is the only major VWGOA assembly facility without labor representation. With a works council, the Chattanooga plant would have a seat at the VW Global Group Works Council. Ultimately, such a labor relations model would give workers an integral role in co-managing the company and providing input on workplace improvements that would contribute to the success of the company and the workers.

“With a local works council, workers would have a voice they can use to make Volkswagen stronger; in safety, job security and efficiency,” said Jonathan Walden, Volkswagen paint technician. “Global representation means Chattanooga workers may have a strong voice in seeking new products and bringing more jobs to Tennessee.”

Co-determination is a key factor in Volkswagen’s success.  Volkswagen has extensive experience with union representation and is globally recognized as being in the forefront of respecting the basic human rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain. Volkswagen’s Global Charter on Labor Relations and Social Charter go beyond international labor standards, establishing principles governing labor relations and social matters, even establishing principles on issues like the use of temporary workers.

“We have reached an agreement with VWGOA that will allow workers to express their opinion and decide on the question of union representation in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation,” said UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who directs the union’s Southern organizing.  “The UAW commends the company and the Global Works Council for recognizing global human rights and worker rights in Tennessee.”

Labor Mourns The Loss Of Nelson Mandela; A Great Leader And An Inspiration To All

nelson-mandela-released-1990

Education is the most powerful weapon
which you can use to change the world.”
-Nelson Mandela

What can you say about one of the greatest leaders our world has ever known?  The world mourns today at the loss of Nelson Mandela, the former South African President, and civil rights activist.

For decades organized labor has been fighting against discrimination in all of its nasty forms.  Labor fought to end segregation in the Civil Rights moment in the 1960s.  Today labor still fights for equal pay for women, marriage equality, and anti-discrimination laws against members of the LBGT community.

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Many of the current leaders of these labor unions drew great inspiration from Nelson Mandela.  He was an outspoken advocate to ending the South African ‘Apartheid,’ the laws that separated white South Africans from all other South Africans.  No matter what happened Mandela never waivered from his convictions. Even after he was arrested, he stayed the course. Mandela was sent to Robben’s Island – the South African version of Alcatraz- where he lived for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned.   After Mandela’s release he reignited his movement to end ‘Apartheid’.  After ‘Apartheid’ ended, South Africa held their first democratic election where all South Africans were allowed to vote.  Overwhelmingly they elected Nelson Mandela.

After Mandela’s passing was announced many of these labor leaders released statements of support and their personal connection to the great leader.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement:

1456090_10152080212351153_1757444395_n“President Nelson Mandela gave more than 60 years of his life fighting for the rights of South Africans and all of humanity. He was a gentle yet determined man who fought for his convictions… 

…His quiet dignity earned respect for him and his cause across the globe. He once said, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.  

During his visit to the United States in 1990, Mandela spoke to the AFL-CIO and called on the labor movement to use its history of empowering America’s workers as a model for South African workers. We in the labor movement must take Mandela’s words and continue to strive for equality and fairness for all working people around the globe.

On behalf of AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler and AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, the AFL-CIO Executive Council and the 12 million working men and women of the AFL-CIO, we extend our deepest condolences to Nelson Mandela’s family, his colleagues and the people of South Africa.”

Shawna Bader-Blau Executive Director of the Solidarity Center an organization that works to promote labor and civil rights throughout the world stated:

“While the world has lost a great statesman and unwavering warrior for freedom, we have not lost President Mandela’s impact on and contributions to his country—and to vulnerable and exploited people everywhere,” said Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the Solidarity Center. “He showed the world the true meaning of liberation by taking on all forms of oppression and championing equality. We are awed by his determination and celebrate his extraordinary accomplishments, which are a gift to the world.”

The AFT President Randi Weingarten and Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson stated:

“Nelson Mandela’s life and historic achievements continue to instruct us in today’s struggles for equity, civil rights and opportunity for all. His moral compass still provides direction to those efforts and will guide us for as long as we honor his memory and celebrate his legacy.”

“The American Federation of Teachers has a long and special connection with South Africa and its path to freedom and democracy. These range from AFT President Albert Shanker’s efforts to assist that nation’s multiracial teachers’ unions, to our HIV/AIDS programs in South African schools, to Share My Lesson’s partnership with The Weinstein Company in promoting lessons associated with the film “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” 

A statement from the United Auto Workers:

“The UAW deeply mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela, one of the most influential civil rights and social justice leaders of our time. Nelson Mandela demonstrated how commitment to core principles and social justice can change the world. His actions freed millions from the chains of racism. From his humble beginnings to his imprisonment for fighting against the apartheid system in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was an inspiration to the world.

“It was an incredible honor for the UAW, through the leadership of then-President Owen Bieber, to play a role in supporting Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists in the 1980s. President Bieber traveled to South Africa to support Mandela and other activists, and when Mandela toured the United States in 1990 after his release from prison, he insisted on celebrating with UAW Local 600 in Dearborn, Mich. During that trip, Mandela invited Bieber to be at his side during a rally at Tiger Stadium.

“Nelson Mandela will be missed by those who believe in civil and human rights for all people. The best way to honor his passing is to continue to work for his ideals. We are committed to doing so.”

The world has lost a great man, and a great leader.  His legacy of non-violence will live on forever.  He will be greatly missed.

MandelaPoverty

UAW President Bob King on government shutdown

“Today is a sad day for working Americans and our democracy. Tea Party Republicans continued their extremist ways and shutdown the federal government in an attempt to implement their far, right-wing agenda. Congressional Republicans’ insistence on denying health care coverage to millions of Americans by undermining the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is immoral as well as practically futile. By refusing to fund the government they have ignored the wishes of the American people and have placed millions of jobs and economic recovery in jeopardy.

“House Republicans have done it again. In order to please the far right, they are taking money out of the pockets of working Americans, and costing our nation jobs. Any manufactured crisis that further slows growth and costs jobs is unacceptable. If the right wing in Congress were serious about preventing harm to Americans, they would pass a responsible budget and end sequestration, which is estimated to reduce employment by 900,000 in the next fiscal year. The House should pass a clean, temporary budget and debt limit increase without partisan wrangling, and work with President Obama and the Senate to strengthen our country.

“Along with millions of other workers, the livelihood of many UAW members is now in jeopardy because of this extremism. UAW members perform federally funded research at our nation’s colleges and universities, determine eligibility for social safety net programs, provide legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, build next generation vehicles for our military, and much more. A government shutdown harms all Americans now and in the future. The UAW stands ready to work with all who are serious about strengthening our economy and creating a brighter future.”

Workers At Nissan In Canton Deserve A Voice In The Workplace

no threats no intimidationBeing a labor activist, I know how hard recent years have been for all workers.  The constant attacks on working families have been the foundation of many political campaigns.

Workers in unions have been fighting for survival against bills like “Right To Work” or repeals of collective bargaining rights.  Other workers are fighting to gain union representation — workers like the service agents at American Airlines who endured months of trials, NLRB hearings, and delayed votes in an attempt to unionize.

Workers in the recent fast food and retail walkouts are fighting for better pay and the right to unionize.  For these workers, collective bargaining is even harder because the industries have not previously been unionized.  They have to organize thousands of workers, most of whom are part-timers with no job security.

Union organizing is also much more difficult than it used to be.  Some employers routinely violate the National Labor Relations Act, figuring that they probably won’t be caught – and even if they are caught, they’d rather pay the fines than negotiate with a union.

The workers at the Nissan plant in Canton Mississippi have been fighting for months now to have a fair election for representation.

They want a fair election because they want workers to have a voice in the workplace.

“They need the security of knowing that when they speak up about safety or quality, their job isn’t in danger.

With a union, workers can sit down with management to discuss the important issues of working conditions, policies, pay and benefits, as well as ways to improve the company’s processes and products.

Workers would also use a voice in the workplace to ensure Nissan does right by Mississippi. Mississippi community members expect more from Nissan than intimidation in the workplace.” [From http://www.dobetternissan.org/why-workers-want-a-union/ ]

Historically, one of the main reasons worker organize is to seek fair wages.  The workers in Canton are no different.  Nissan has received $1.3 billon dollars in incentives for building their plant in Canton.  Even with all those incentives workers at Nissan are paid less than workers in the same jobs just 400 miles up the road.

In fact a new report issued by Good Jobs First revealed that Nissan collected nearly $290,000 for every new job it created in Canton.

Another major issue is the fact that Nissan is supplementing their workforce with lower paid, temporary workers.  These workers do the same jobs as “career” employees yet they are classified as temporary and that means they have no job security at all.  Imagine trying to get a auto loan after you tell the bank you are a only a “temporary employee” at Nissan.

“According to workers at Nissan’s Canton plant, almost all the new jobs Nissan is creating in production – nearly 1,000 – are being filled by temps. Nissan should immediately acknowledge that these “temp” workers are actually the same as Nissan technicians, and they should give up their “temporary worker” model of employment.” [From DoBetterNissan.org]

Since workers started to organize at Nissan they have been building community support, because the local economy relies on factory workers’ incomes.  Together, they have formed the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan.

“The Alliance believes that if Nissan management addresses workers, individually or in groups, on the issue of unionization, then the Nissan Workers Fair Election Committee must be afforded equal time and access to address Nissan workers” [From Do Better Nissan – Alliance]

The Alliance has strong support from local faith groups as well as Congressman Bernie Thompson.

Two-fair-election-signs

Actor Danny Glover with workers from the Canton Nissan plant.

Nissan workers have also received support from actor and activist Danny Glover.  Last year the UAW presented Danny with the UAW Walter Reuther Social Justice Award for his support of UAW members and all working people.

Local Canton residents are not the only ones who are fighting back against the injustice of not allowing workers to organize. College students have created Student Justice Alliances (SJAs) in various states including Mississippi, Florida and Georgia. They are a growing force supporting the campaign by Nissan workers to gain a voice on the job and stop the company from intimidating and threatening employees.

“The 150-plus members of the Mississippi Student Justice Alliance from Tougaloo and Jackson State University in Jackson, joined by supporters from other colleges in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, are taking the issue into neighborhoods, car dealerships, auto shows, on-campus rallies, the Internet and YouTube.” [From Facing South]

In partnership with the United Auto Workers, these students are helping to spread the word about the treatment of workers at Nissan.  Armed with signs and video cameras, these students have been holding informational pickets at Nissan dealerships throughout the south.

Check out the video of how these students were treated as they peacefully held a sign on the sidewalk.

The UAW had this to say about the video on their Facebook page:

“We now understand why Nissan has such a difficult time understanding that workers have a right to organize. It turns out that Nissan, through one of its Washington, D.C.-area dealers, also apparently has a hard time understanding another basic human right: the right to free speech.

Members of Concerned Students for a Better Nissan were bullied by dealership officials at Passport Nissan in Marlow Heights, Md., as they were raising awareness to consumers about Nissan workers in Canton, Miss., and Smryna, Tenn.

They were outside the dealership on public easement and held a banner that read “choosejustice.com” and urged Nissan to do the right thing by allowing workers at its plants a free and fair vote on organizing their workplace.

As this video shows, this bit of constitutionally protected First Amendment activity didn’t sit too well with dealership officials. One official took hold of the sign and wouldn’t let go, even as the student protesters begged them to release their sign. The sign was finally returned to the students after the police arrived.

Future awareness-raising events will be held at Nissan dealerships by these and other concerned students to let the public know about the injustices committed by the automaker.”

Workers deserve a voice in their workplace.  They deserve a fair election.  Nissan could learn a lot from the American auto manufacturers who have collectively bargained with the UAW for years.  The UAW helped the American auto manufacturers rebound after the 2008 recession, and now have the number one vehicle on the market (Chevy Impala).

Strong financial gains can be made when workers and management work together.  Together you can make an even better product, have safer and more efficient worksites, and be a more profitable company – all at the same time.

United Auto Workers Rally Against Mitt Romney and His Lies About The Auto Industry

Today workers from multiple unions gathered around Sen Jeanne Shaheen, Sen John Kerry, and UAW President Bob King to talk about why we need re-elect Barack Obama. Many of the workers were United Auto Workers (UAW) whose jobs were saved by the ‘auto industry bailout’.  That stimulus money helped more that “23,000 jobs here in the Granite State”.  Sen Shaheen continued to  say that the auto rescue has let to a “17% increase in car sales here in NH”.    When people are buying new cars this means that workers are getting paid and that money continues to spread throughout our towns and communities. Second to speak is long time friend of NH, Sen John Kerry. He talked about portraying Mitt Romney in the debate practice with President Obama.  Sen Kerry even jested that he became so good at being Mitt Romney that he even “closed a couple of factories, sent the jobs overseas, and then left the debate practices with his dog strapped to the roof of his car”. Sen Kerry continued by saying “Mitt Romney is not telling the truth“.  The lie that is being spread around in states like Ohio is that Jeep is going to move it production facilities overseas.  Sen Kerry stated “the head of the company (Jeep) has told him that he is not telling the truth”. Mitt Romney is continuing to lie his way into office.  Making statements are false or misleading.  He commonly refers to his record as Governor of Massachusetts.  Sen Kerry tells the truth about a Romney Massachusetts.  Currently Romney is loosing Massachusetts by 20 points.  Sen Kerry asked “what does it tell you that the man who governed our state can’t win his own state?”  Kerry continued, “the people who know him the best, trust him the least“. Here are some of Romney’s shining moments as Governor by Sen Kerry

  • He lost 45,000 manufacturing jobs
  • He left a 1 billion dollar deficit
  • Raised 700 million dollars in taxes and fees on the middle class while he gave 278 of the wealthiest families a “great big tax cut”
  • He cut education and turned his back on infrastructure investments

Rounding out ‘the big three’ of the event was UAW President Bob King.  President King praised President Obama for making the tough decision to bail out the auto industry.  President Obama understood there were more than 1 million jobs at risk. King quickly shifted on to Mitt Romney.  Going right at him for being a ‘flip-flopper’, by reminding every one of Romney’s famous “let Detroit go bankrupt”.  In the last debate Romney is claiming he “would not have done anything to hurt the auto industry”.  King explained that what Mitt Romney is doing in Ohio is hurting the auto industry.  “Romney is trying to use fear” to win this election.  King explained that twice Chrysler, the Jeep parent company, corrected Mitt Romney for his inaccurate statements. What was Mitt Romney’s response to the CEO of Chrysler calling him a liar? “He doubled down on the lie”.  King explained that in Ohio they double the advertising on the ‘lie’ and even had robo-calls to workers.  Romney’s lies are hurting the American Auto Industry brand, which lowers sales and in turn hurts workers and those connected to the auto industry. While Romney was saying no to all those auto loans, King asked, “do you know who personally benefited the most from the Delphi loans. Who can in with the vulture capitalist?”    Mitt Romney! “Romney made at least $15 Million and maybe $115 million dollars by moving jobs to China, taking pensions away from workers.  This guy has not created jobs in America. This guy made his fortune off the misfortune of others” We need everyone to get out and vote tomorrow. We need everyone to vote to re-elect President Barack Obama!

* * * *

Below is the video of the speeches as recorded by NHLN writer Matt Murray

Mitt Romney’s Auto Industry

Rally in Manchester tomorrow — Monday, November 5th — details below!

So, is Mitt Romney lying – or just confused?

Last week, Mitt Romney told a whopper:  he said that Jeep is “thinking of moving all their production to China.”

That’s not true.   Chrysler’s CEO immediately set the record straight: the company has no intention of shifting production of Jeep models out of North America.

But dig deeper behind the headlines, and you will find an auto industry company that is planning to ship production to China.  An auto-parts company based in Freeport, Illinois plans to close its factory in December 2012 and ship all 170 jobs to China.  Right now, the company is threatening its employees with an immediate shut-down, unless the workers stop protesting the decision to close the plant.  So far, employees have filed two unfair labor practice complaints against the company with the National Labor Relations Board.

That company, Sensata, is controlled by Bain Capital.  According to press reports, Mitt Romney owns about $8 million worth of the Bain fund that controls Sensata.

So yes, on one level, Mitt Romney is right: American auto industry jobs ARE being sent to China.  But not by Chrysler.  It’s Bain Capital that is sending even MORE jobs overseas.

So maybe Romney didn’t really mean to lie last week.  He apparently has multiple investments in the auto industry (read more about his Delphi investment, below).  Maybe he just got confused about which company was shifting production overseas.

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Appearing in tomorrow’s edition of The Nation magazine:

Mitt Romney’s Bailout Bonanza

“Mitt Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout has haunted him on the campaign trail … But Romney has done a good job of concealing, until now, the fact that he and his wife, Ann, personally gained at least $15.3 million from the bailout…”

“It all starts with Delphi Automotive, a former General Motors subsidiary whose auto parts remain essential to GM’s production lines. … in addition to making massive loans to automakers in 2009, the federal government sent, directly or indirectly, more than $12.9 billion to Delphi—and to the hedge funds that had gained control over it.”

Read the complete article here.

The UAW is holding a rally in Manchester tomorrow, to draw attention to Mitt Romney’s profiteering off of federal bailout money.  You can join the UAW and other guests on Monday, November 5th starting at 2:30 pm at 40 Lake Avenue in Manchester.

Read more here and here.

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 Learn more about what is happening at Sensata, in this YouTube video:

 

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