On the picket line

UAW forms local at Tenn. Volkswagen plant

In an unorthodox move on July 10, the United Auto Workers set up Local 42 at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., where it lost a close vote (712 to 626) in February. The February vote was heavily influenced by outside interference: Republican politicians, who relied upon big money and dishonest anti-union propaganda to convince a slim majority of workers to vote against the union. UAW President Dennis Williams noted at that time the union “was gratified to earn the confidence and support of many Volkswagen team members … [and] we said we would not give up on these committed and hard-working employees. We’re keeping our promise.” (New York Times, July 11) But first it reached a “consensus with the company” that once Local 42 signs up “a meaningful portion” of the workforce, the company will recognize the union. At present membership is voluntary, with no dues, but its existence allows VW to set up a German-style “works council” of workers and management. The Times article noted the union “is taking this unusual step” because it’s “eager to gain some traction at foreign-owned auto plants in the South, none of which is unionized.” Establishing Local 42 now will enable the UAW to run another organizing effort in the near future. Stay tuned.

Pro-union rally at Nissan plant in Mississippi

A pro-union rally by about 400 students, activists, ministers and workers at the huge Nissan plant on June 27 in Canton, Miss., brought an activist ending to the Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Conference in nearby Jackson. College students from New York and Missouri joined with students from local historically Black schools like Jackson State University and Tougaloo College to demand that Nissan allow the thousands of workers to join the UAW. The students, chanting “Ain’t no power but the power of the people!” joined actor/activist Danny Glover to deliver a petition to the company entitled “Labor rights are civil rights.” Although Nissan workers are organized in other countries, the company has strongly resisted unionization at its Southern plants.Workers in Canton complain of cutbacks in health care benefits, arbitrary changes in work hours, increased use of temporary workers and anti-union harassment. The Rev. Isiac Jackson, chair of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, proclaimed: “Nissan is exploiting the workforce of Mississippi with a plantation mentality! Union today! Union tomorrow! Union forever!” (Labor South, July 7)

Resolution passed: $15 minimum wage for all workers

The San Francisco Letter Carriers Union on July 2 unanimously adopted a resolution for a $15 minimum wage for all workers. Noting that “workers in fast-food, retail, custodial, and agriculture, and other low-wage workers, as well as some unions, have launched a powerful national movement demanding a $15 minimum wage,” the “Golden Gate Branch 214 of the National Association of Letter Carriers will encourage all states and localities to adopt a $15 minimum wage for all workers, effective without delay.” The resolution will be submitted to the 2014 convention of the California Labor Federation, July 29-30.

ILWU keeps negotiating as Dockworkers’ contract expires

Although the International Longshore and Warehouse Union contract expired July 1, thousands of dockworkers at 29 ports along the Pacific Coast continue working, with a new contract not expected for weeks. Major issues include whether workers will pay more for health care, what jobs will remain under union control, and how many jobs would be cut by introducing new technology, and workplace safety. It’s estimated a strike could cost upwards of $2 billion a day, based on yearly movement of cargo worth $900 billion. A report by the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation concluded that “the detrimental economic impact [of a strike] would be significant and widespread.” (Associated Press, July 1)

Homecare workers determined to organize

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a 5-4 decision on June 30 that homecare workers who do not belong to a union do not have to pay dues, even though they benefit from union representation, homecare workers in Minnesota, who help seniors and people with disabilities stay in their homes, plan to keep organizing and hold a union election soon. “Our state faces a looming workforce crisis in public homecare programs, and this decision will not stop [us] from fighting to ensure quality care for all Minnesotans,” said Sumer Spika, a homecare worker in St. Paul. Based on the decision, Minnesota childcare workers are also hoping to move ahead in their quest to join a union. The latest data show the U.S. has 1.14 million personal care aides, 807,000 home health care aides and 600,000 childcare workers. The vast majority are women whose average yearly wages are about $20,000. (Workday Minnesota, June 30)