Workers Assembly unites Southern fightback

Photo: Manzoor Cheema

Photo: Manzoor Cheema

Workers from across the Raleigh- Durham, N.C., area and from many different workplaces gathered in a Local Worker Assembly sponsored by the Southern Workers Assembly on Feb. 22. As part of the growing Moral Monday movement, workers across North Carolina have been involved in strikes, civil disobedience, walk-ins, protests at state office buildings and other activities in the past several months to raise their demands against the right-wing takeover of state government by Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration, and against big business’s endless attacks.

At the Workers Assembly, city workers, farmworkers, unemployed workers and other workers spoke out about issues on their jobs, the fight for better wages, efforts to organize for more workplace union rights, and fighting back against cuts by state and city governments.

McCrory, Sen. Phil Berger and Speaker of the House Thom Tillis have been leading a crusade to destroy public education here. In their latest move, they passed a law that effectively forces most teachers to reapply for their jobs each year; the only contracts are for one year, two years or four years of temporary employment.

Teachers organized walk-ins and rallies at hundreds of schools across the state. In response to the uproar, legislators passed a new initiative that would pit teachers against each other, encouraging the top 25 percent to sign contracts for a few years of employment and a $500 bonus per year. But they would lose their career status.

Teachers in Guilford County fought back and got the support of their school board, which passed a resolution on Feb. 11 to sue the state of North Carolina for cutting back on their career status. The resolution, which came after weeks and weeks of organizing by teachers, education workers and the community, and was joined in late February by Durham County, not only refuses to implement the rule but directly challenges this move by state legislators.

Other counties are bound to join in this fight. On March 4, teachers are calling on supporters to attend a Wake County School Board meeting in Cary, N.C., to pass a similar resolution.

Jennifer Fowler, who is a second grade teacher at Millbrook Elementary in Raleigh, spoke about how she worked at Bojangles since she was 15 years old and later became manager, earning more wages than she does now as a teacher. She spoke about the incredible amount of student loan debt she had to accrue to become a low-wage teacher with no guaranteed ­career.

Fast-food workers, many of whom have been on strike for $15 an hour and a union, participated. Two young women workers told about sexual harassment from their bosses, including being followed into the bathroom. Many don’t get enough hours to support themselves, and their meager wages make it impossible to support a family.

“They are coming after everything,” stated Kevin Yancey, chief shop steward for United Electrical Workers Local 150, N.C. Public Service Workers Union, and health care technician at Murdoch Developmental Center. “And it is about time that we workers get together from many workplaces and fight back.”

State mental health workers from Murdoch and Central Regional Hospital testified about the increasing pressure from cuts to staffing and forced overtime. “I had to work 16-hour shifts four days in a row and did not get a day off for eight days,” stated Joseph Sterling, a health care technician at CRH and UE 150 union steward. Turnover for registered nurses at CRH is nearly 45.7 percent because of low wages, dangerous working conditions and lack of union rights.

UE 150 is fighting for a Mental Health Workers Bill of Rights as a stepping stone to winning collective bargaining rights for all public sector workers. They are focusing on a campaign for “Safety, Rights and Raises” and will be meeting with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos on March 19 and releasing a public report on the working conditions and low wages. The union is demanding a $3,000 across-the-board wage increase for all state employees.

Workers passed resolutions to repeal the ban on collective bargaining and so-called “right-to-work” laws; to support a major statewide demonstration on May Day 2014; for solidarity between groups; for Freedom Summer Labor participation; and to drop the charges against Moral Monday arrestees. May Day, International Workers Day on May 1, will be an exciting day of action where these workers will converge again.

This assembly is organized by members of the Southern Workers Assembly, NC Raise Up, UE local 150-N.C. Public Service Workers Union and Black Workers for Justice, with participation from members of the North Carolina Association of Educators, Organize 2020, the NC Justice Center and others.

The Southern Workers Assembly is hosting similar events in coming weeks, including a Local Worker Assembly in Wilson, N.C., on March 8. This event is co-sponsored by Black Workers for Justice Women’s Commission, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the Pitt County Coalition Against Racism.

There will also be a third assembly in Charlotte, N.C., on April 12. Visit ­ for more ­information.