UAW Playing the Long Game, Ready for the Short Game at VW in Chattanooga

by Wade Rathke

workscouncilChairman of Volkswagen announced in Germany with the Tennessee Governor and US Senator Bob Coker from Tennessee hanging on every word, that the company will add 2000 workers, spend $600 million adding a new SUV line at the Chattanooga plant, and collect $166 million from the State of Tennessee in tax and other subsidies as well as $12 million in lagniappe to throw at job training for the new workers. On this score everyone can agree, but after that confusion reigns.

Senator Coker, speaking for the red-meat, union haters in the local and statewide business community, when asked for his reaction to both the plant expansion and news recently that the UAW had opened an office, chartered a local, and was hunkering down in its ongoing effort to unionize the plant, snarled through an office statement, “Any union can rent space in any city and open an office.” Well, that’s good to know, Senator? The Governor seemed more rooted in the emerging reality and praised the workers and the fact that the VW decision was a vote of confidence in them.

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Pair of NLRB Cases Could Land Temps, Low-Wage Workers the Protections They’ve Long Desired

by Chaz Bolte

Photo by Chris Dilts Flickr

Photo by Chris Dilts Flickr

Two cases currently before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will determine what it officially means to be an employer, and the ramifications for management in industries ranging from fast food to waste collection could be serious.

Given the complicated nature of modern American labor the two decisions seek to determine who employs whom and therefore who can enter into collective bargaining agreements.  The cases aim to undress the chain of command hidden by layers of temporary staffing and franchising laws many companies exploit to lower labor costs.

The first case is a consolidated case that will determine the future of fast food franchises. At question is whether McDonalds qualifies as a ‘joint employer’ along with the franchise owners.  It is one of the byproducts of a growing campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 which has swept the nation.

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A LEGACY OF INJUSTICE AND INEQUALITY

by Briosha Sanders

Bri-Sanders1-585x280

I’d be lying if I told you that it never occurred to me to question the beauty of the countryside that I loved to explore as a young person of color in the South. Many people, like me, can’t help but admire stretches of crisp green plants that interchange with golden fields and eventually give way to pristine farm homes with freshly trimmed lawns. However, there is a deeply entrenched legacy of injustice and inequality that no amount of romanticizing or denial could remove from the reality of life in the country.  But people like to forget and forgetting is costly.

I’d seen third world poverty before when I worked with a nonprofit organization in Honduras in the summer of 2012, but I still felt shocked when I went out to the camps of the trabajadores with whom FLOC organizers work to build community power. It was shocking, I think, because for the first time I was faced with the harsh realization that there is a widespread human trafficking operation of cheap labor thriving in my back yard.

One of the ugliest things I’ve seen in the fields confronted me this past Tuesday night when my companeros y yo visited a worker camp in North Carolina that was surrounded by barbwire fence. For me, it looked like a prison.  It made me think of a cage where the workers are contained until they are needed to work in the fields. There were approximately 60 people living in 5-6 trailers with worn out mattresses backed into a small space, allowing hardly enough room for people to move around.

I realized that the poverty I witnessed in Honduras and the exploitation that the workers here in North Carolina experience are connected. Although, abstractly, I understood that they stem from the same roots of capitalism, imperialism, and racism, it was another thing altogether to witness the blatant disregard for even the most basic human rights that farmworkers are forced to endure every day. Wage theft, physical and verbal abuse, scorching heat, and denial of water and/or lunch breaks, and on and on.

FLOC is an organization of activists and advocates, some of whom have experienced these very same violations themselves, fighting to expose the ugliness of the conditions that farmworkers often feel they have to “put up with” in order to feed their families and care for their loved ones. The fact is that the plantation was never abolished in the South and there is nothing beautiful or endearing about the struggles that farmworkers are forced to experience for fear of losing their jobs or even being deported. As an intern for FLOC, I am even more motivated by and have an ever growing appreciation for la lucha to unionize and demand the Respect, the Recognition, and the Raises that farmworkers deserve.

Briosha Sanders is working for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC) as an intern.  This post originally appeared on FLOC’s blog, and is reposted here with the permission of FLOC and of Briosha Sanders.

 

 

 

Watch: Farm Owner Rep Punches Labor Union Organizer in the Face (Video)

punchA representative from the North Carolina Growers Association, an organization representing farm owners in North Carolina, attacked union organizer Oscar Sanchez last week during an outdoor meeting.

Oscar Sanchez, who is the “Respect, Recognition, and Raise!” campaign leader and organizer for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, had earlier met with farm workers who were exploring their options for coping with the after effects of a slow season. Following his meeting, FLOC  had filed a request to help the workers.

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Virginia Is for Compliers: Easier to Fight Misclassification, Subcontracting Violators

 by Chaz Bolte

Chaz Bolte

Chaz Bolte

Virginia’s penalties for misclassifying workers in order to avoid paying insurance costs got a boost this month thanks to a new law.  The Virginia Workers Compensation Act made it easier for the state to take action against violators, according to Virginia Workplace Law:

The civil penalty is now up to $250 per day for each day of noncompliance, subject to a maximum penalty of $50,000, plus collection costs.”  The VWCA requires every business owner with more than two employees (a part-time worker is counted as one employee) to have coverage for such worker.

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Don’t Fire Workers For Cursing–or Other Concerted Activity

by Matt Bruenig

swearing-294391_640Conservatives I follow on Twitter have gotten really perturbed by a recent slate of National Labor Relations Board decisions. In particular, they seem scandalized by the fact that you can’t automatically fire someone just because they said a cuss word. Even Radley “hate the cops, love the boss” Balko managed to get himself worked up about it a couple of weeks ago. Normally, I’d let this sort of thing pass, but with economic news being slow right now, I thought it might be helpful to explain why these decisions make perfect sense.

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Hospital Union Claims Victory in Johns Hopkins Contract Fight

by Bruce Vail

1199SEIU President George Gresham (right) protests low wages with fellow union members in a three-day picket line outside Johns Hopkins Hospital in April.   (Jim McNeill/1199SEIU)

1199SEIU President George Gresham (right) protests low wages with fellow union members in a three-day picket line outside Johns Hopkins Hospital in April. (Jim McNeill/1199SEIU)

(July 11) A bruising four-month fight between healthcare workers’ union 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and Johns Hopkins Hospital is coming to an end: Members voted on Thursday and Friday to ratify a new agreement covering about 2,000 medical center employees.

The battle has been unusually intense compared with negotiations in the past, featuring a three-day strike in April and a voracious media campaign shaming the wealthy hospital for abandoning its lowest-paid workers. And though the new contract falls short of initial demands that would have more widely boosted wages among staff, local 1199SEIU leaders still view its ratification as a welcome victory after months of struggle.
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Union Campaign Wins Big Raise At Rocky Mount Engine Plant

UE News

[Eds. note: Because of the relevance to the topic of how minority unions can function in the South, Talking Union is departing from its usual practice of not reposting organizational press releases. We applaud the patience and persistence of the UE's long term organizing strategy, and hope that other unions will emulate it.]
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UAW Local Union 42 Created at VW Chattanooga

by Paul Garver

The campaign to organize Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga is taking a new and interesting direction.

The UAW has chartered Local 42 as a new local organization representing workers at the VW plant.  According to the UAW press release, Local 42 will offer the workers the opportunity for a voice in the workplace similar to the VW works council system for employee representation in Germany.  Calling itself “Volkswagen’s works council partner,” the union pledged to continue its advocacy for state incentives to encourage VW to expand production and create jobs at the Chattanooga plant.

Unlike the usual American labor relations system the union will not have the right to exclusive representation, nor will it represent workers other than its own members.  However the UAW expects that the company will “recognize” the union once it has signed up a “meaningful” portion of its workforce as an organization that represents its own members.  Since the union had dropped its NLRB challenge to the February representation election it had narrowly lost, it could no longer at this time seek formal collective bargaining rights nor the right to exclusive representation of the work force.
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Behind the Closed Doors at a Coca-Cola Anti-Union Meeting: Workers Push Back

by Stuart Elliott

In the vast majority of union organizing drives, the company calls mandatory meetings to deliver its anti-union message.  Increasingly, workers are standing up and sharing their experiences with the closed meetings. Recorded on July 9, 2014 in Atlanta, GA at the South Metro distribution center in College Park. Here Coca Cola’s Director of Labor Relations Brian LaVelle and his assistant force workers to attend a mandatory (mis)’information session’ about the Teamsters union. Listen when workers push back and demand to know how much the union busters get paid for running such meetings. Powerful audio here. Go behind closed doors at Coke’s anti-union meetings.

LaVelle describes union dues paid to the international union as a “kickback.”  LaVelle intimates that unions often fines members. One worker points out that the Teamsters Local 728 had no income from fines. Another asks what is LaVellle’s salary and he refuses. A worker says that no-one represents him and that he would like to have someone to represent him. Later a worker asks if Coca-Cola will bring down workers from the company’s unionized plants to talk to workers in Georgia. A worker says it seems like a majority of workers coming together will get more results than individuals pursuing complaints individually.  Other questions raise the point that the union doesn’t have equal access to talk to workers and wonder why Coke’s HR department doesn’t put as much effort into solving problems as it does in fighting the union.

It takes the HR people an extra 20 minutes to deal with the good questions from workers.

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