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Southern Auto Workers Are Rising

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, April 5, 2024

Auto workers are gearing up to smash through anti-union bulwarks in Alabama and Tennessee.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, at the only Volkswagen factory in the world without a union, votes will be counted April 19 as 4,300 workers who make the Atlas SUV and the ID.4 electric vehicle decide whether to join the United Auto Workers.

“We didn’t think things would happen so fast,” said VW worker Victor Vaughn.

Momentum spurred them forward. The organizing committee recruited 300 co-workers as election captains. “We have well over 90 percent coverage within the plant, every position, every line,” said Vaughn. “At that point we knew, ‘Yes, we’re where we need to be.’”

Next up will be Mercedes. Workers in Vance, Alabama, at one of only two nonunion Mercedes-Benz factories on the planet, filed for an election today; a vote is expected soon after the VW vote.

The 5,000 workers there make the highly profitable luxury GLE SUVs and the Maybach GLS, which retails for upwards of $170,000.

“You never know when a person goes inside a booth,” said Mercedes worker Jeremy Kimbrell. “Nobody’s watching, and the company’s got a month to scare the hell out of them. But I feel pretty good about the vote. Workers finally stood up for themselves and are ending the Alabama discount.”

More than 10,000 workers at 13 non-union carmakers across two dozen facilities nationwide have signed union cards since last November, when the UAW announced an ambitious goal to organize 150,000 workers at major non-union auto and battery plants.

That roughly mirrors the UAW’s existing Big 3 membership.

Why the Environmental Justice Movement Should Support the UAW Organizing Drive

By Bill Gallegos and Manuel Pastor - The Nation, March 11, 2024

A progressive version of the right’s Southern strategy could remake our politics—and ensure that the cars of the future, and the batteries they run on, are built by union labor.

While analysts have pointed to a recent slowing in demand for electric vehicles (EVs), the long-term picture remains clear: Annual global EV sales are projected to nearly triple between now and 2030. That trend represents some potential good news for the climate. But it’s also raised concerns—most sharply reflected in last year’s strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW)—about what will happen to both existing and prospective workers.

One big problem: The new “Battery Belt”—prompted by federal policies to move to zero emission vehicles and build an adequate charging infrastructure—is being developed in many Southern states where manufacturers seek to take advantage of low wages, few regulations, and a divided working class.

While we can’t stop the flow of federal climate dollars to those states—a fiscal largesse that seems particularly ironic since so many of their Republican leaders deny climate change—we can and should change the conditions that make them a lure for multinationals seeking to exploit low costs. That, in turn, requires widening the circle of support for a truly transformative move to a clean energy economy.

The combination of worker vulnerability and political division in the South has deep historic roots. The field of exploitative corporate dreams was made possible by a US labor movement that has never been able to follow through on its post–World War II promise to organize the South—a region whose anti-union politics stem in part from a legacy of slavery and racism.

But change may be coming. Even as presidential candidate Donald Trump was trolling autoworkers to persuade them that electrical vehicles would be the end of their jobs, the UAW’s 2023 strike led to contracts that raised wages, did away with two-tier labor systems, and opened the way to unionization up and down the supply chain for electric vehicles.

The UAW’s Massive Gamble

The UAW Has Set Its Sights on the Anti-Union South

By Alex N. Press - Jacobin, March 8, 2024

In Vance, Alabama, nineteen miles east of Tuscaloosa, workers at the Mercedes-Benz US International (MBUSI) plant make the Mercedes GLE, GLE coupé, and GLS model series as well as the all-electric EQS SUV and EQE. They’ve also started building something else: a union. On the heels of the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) victorious strike against the Big Three automakers last fall, the union has gone on the offensivevowing to organize some 150,000 nonunion autoworkers at thirteen companies across the country.

The union has tried to organize some of these plants before — and failed. The South has proven an almost entirely impenetrable citadel for the entirety of modern US labor history. Yet the UAW is heeding these workers’ calls, directing its focus and $40 million in extra resources to try again, and on a far larger scale.

The UAW has failed before, but now, the context has changed: members’ success at the Big Three has ignited a sense of possibility in their nonunion counterparts, and the union’s new leadership, determined to cast off the corruption of old and trust in the power of the membership and the desire to organize across the entire working class, is encouraging precisely such ambitious thinking. If workers were ever going to pull this one off, now is the time.

The first shop where a majority of workers signed union-authorization cards was Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which employs some 5,500 workers and was the site of previous failed UAW campaigns. On February 27, MBUSI’s workers announced that they were the second plant to reach that milestone, with a majority of the shop’s roughly six thousand employees having signed union cards. (Workers at Hynduai’s plant in Montgomery, Alabama, have also gone public with a UAW campaign, announcing last month that 30 percent of the plant’s four thousand workers have signed union cards.)

Toyota Workers at Critical Engine Plant Launch UAW Union Drive

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 8, 2024

Auto workers at a Toyota engine plant in Troy, Missouri, have signed up 30 percent of their 1,000 co-workers to join the United Auto Workers (UAW)—a first at Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, on the heels of the union’s announcements of organizing campaigns at Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Mercedes-Benz.

Workers at the plant just outside St. Louis build 2.6 million cylinder heads per year. Should they stop building them, it would cut off supplies for all of the company’s engine plants in North America. Toyota is still working to build up its supply of chips and other inventory, following pandemic lockdowns and global supply-chain snarls.

In the body of a vehicle, these cylinder heads are as essential as human lungs, controlling the flow of air and fuel into the combustion chamber, powering a vehicle’s performance on the road.

In a new video, “We Keep Toyota Running,” workers describe the steep cost at which that performance comes. “People say Toyota engines last forever,” a worker says in the video. “We know what makes it possible: our hands, our backs, our knees, our work. We carry the proof every day: injuries, surgeries, disabilities.”

The Auto Workers Go All In

By Harold Meyerson - The American Prospect, February 26, 2024

In an event that’s way more groundbreaking than it should be, the United Auto Workers announced last week that it is committing $40 million to organize the workers in the nation’s non-union auto and battery factories: “particularly,” the announcement said, “in the South.”

A union appropriating that level of funding for on-the-ground organizing isn’t something we’ve seen very much, if at all, in recent decades—at least, not in industries where management views their workers as replaceable, which is how management commonly views most workers in manufacturing, retail, transportation, food services, and the like. In the playbook of American business, replaceable workers can be fired for participating in or just supporting an organizing campaign, and even though such firings are illegal, the penalties for violating that law have long been negligible. In going all in to organize the nation’s Volkswagen, Honda, Toyota, Mercedes, Tesla, and other factories, the UAW executive board had three good reasons to think their union could overcome what has been this most daunting of obstacles.

The UAW’s New Push to Organize Nonunion Auto Is Bearing Fruit

By Alex Press - Jacobin, January 30, 2024

The United Auto Workers (UAW) keeps rolling on.

On Monday, the union announced that a combined ten thousand nonunion workers at two dozen plants across the United States have signed UAW cards since the union began its campaign to organize a sizable portion of the country’s nonunion auto sector, especially thirteen automakers: BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen (VW), and Volvo, and electric vehicle (EV) producers Lucid, Rivian, and Tesla. The UAW estimates that the total workforce it’s targeting is around 150,000 people, roughly the same number as are covered by the union’s contracts with the “Big Three” Detroit automakers.

So ten thousand cards means the union has a long way to go. But coming less than ninety days after UAW members ratified the Big Three contracts following their hard-fought stand-up strike, it’s an encouraging milestone. Call it evidence that the union wasn’t bluffing when it said it was channeling resources into an effort to reverse the union’s decades-long decline, along with that of much of the rest of the labor movement.

“Our Stand-Up movement has caught fire among America’s autoworkers, far beyond the Big Three,” UAW president Shawn Fain said in a statement on the announcement. “These workers are standing up for themselves, for their families, and for their communities, and our union will have their back every step of the way.”

I Build Cars For a Living. I Can’t Afford to Buy One

As UAW Ramps Up Organizing, Tesla Boosts Wages for US Factory Workers

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, January 11, 2024

The electric vehicle maker Tesla has reportedly informed workers at its California plant that it is hiking wages for factory employees across the United States, becoming the latest nonunion car manufacturer to boost worker pay following the United Auto Workers' historic strike and contract victories late last year.

Bloomberg reported Thursday that all of Tesla's production associates, material handlers, and quality inspectors will receive a "market adjustment pay increase" to start 2024, according to a flyer that company management posted at its Fremont, California plant—which employs more than 20,000 workers.

The document did not make clear the size of the raise, Bloomberg noted.

Tesla is run by billionaire Elon Musk, who has been vocally hostile toward organized labor for years—a stance that has drawn scrutiny and rebukes from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In a 2018 post on Twitter, a platform he now owns and rebranded as X, Musk wrote that there is "nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union."

"But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?" he added. The NLRB said the post constituted an unlawful threat against workers considering exercising their right to organize.

UAW Begins Largest Union Campaign in Modern History


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