Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
With their membership less than one-third what it was in 1979, the United Auto Workers are undertaking an ambitious campaign to break the anti-union regime in the South. UAW President Bob King “has basically staked his legacy” on organizing Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan plants there, said Kristin Dziczek, director of the labor and industry group at the Center for Automotive Research. “Unless they unionize more of the automotive work force in the country, they will become wage takers, not wage setters.” A key target is the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, where 40 percent of the more than 5,000 workers are temporary. The UAW is carrying the campaign to South Africa, Japan, France, and Brazil, where the country’s largest union has pledged to picket Nissan dealerships “until they have a union inside the plant in Mississippi.”
Bernd Osterloh, head of Volkswagen’s global “works council,” said Oct. 7 that he supported the company forming such a council with the United Auto Workers at its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He added that having a council was important if the plant wanted to produce other VW cars besides the Passat. More than 80 percent of VW’s factories have such a system, in which the union cedes some rights in exchange for a voice in running the plant, and the company has been negotiating with the UAW about setting one up here. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker both oppose the company recognizing the union.
Mike Burton, a worker at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant, said Oct. 4 that he had given management petitions signed by 563 hourly workers opposing the United Auto Workers. “There are no duplicates,” he said. Last month, the UAW said that a majority of the plant’s 1,567 production and skilled maintenance workers had signed cards authorizing it to represent them. Since then, it has said it wants VW to recognize the union using card check.
The partial shutdown of the federal government has meant hundreds of thousands of workers have been furloughed, and thousands more are working without paychecks—and they’re also doing it without union representation on the job. Because of the shutdown, some federal personnel lawyers have said, it’s illegal for union officials and representatives to get time off from their regular duties to represent other workers. If they do, they will get furloughed.
With federal inspectors not working because of the government shutdown, aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin, a major military contractor, furloughed 3,000 workers Oct. 4. Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson sent a memo to workers saying more furloughs are likely if Congress doesn’t pass a bill to fund government operations. At Bell Helicopter, another military supplier, CEO John Garrison said his company “cannot rule out impacts later next week.”
Communications Workers of America District 7 voted Sept. 29 to reject a tentative contract deal reached in July with the CenturyLink phone company, Colorado’s largest landline phone service provider. The union, which represents 11,000 call-center operators, network technicians, and other front-line employees in 13 states, has been working under a contract that expired last year, and a temporary extension ended Oct. 3. A District 7 spokesperson said a strike was not imminent. CWA officials told workers last month that “if we went on strike, it would be classified as an economic strike, meaning we could be permanently replaced.”
Labor representatives confronted Darden Restaurants Inc. CEO Clarence Otis, at the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Orlando, Florida, last month. Theydemanded to know why the company, which owns the Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Capital Grille restaurant chains, pays its servers only $2.13 an hour, the federal minimum wage for employees who routinely receive tips. Otis, who’d personally lobbied against raising the tipped minimum wage, told the shareholders that “no Darden worker makes $2.13 an hour” and a higher wage for servers “would only fuel additional tension and arguably would be unfair to the non-tipped employees.” The company has 28,000 workers.
The National Labor Relations Board has charged the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center with 19 violations against employees involved in a campaign by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania to organize service workers at the hospital. The accusations include that UPMC illegally fired four workers for union activity and punished others who testified at NLRB hearings on charges filed last year. A hearing is scheduled for Dec.16.
The Transport Workers Union on Oct. 3 filed a request to intervene in an antitrust lawsuit intended to stop the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways. The union, which represents 26,000 workers at American, told the court it “does not have an independent cause of action or defense to plead, but does have a significant interest in the outcome of the matter.”The lawsuit, filed in August by the Department of Justice and several states, contends that the merger would be anti-competitive and harmful to consumers.
The International Trade Union Confederation said Oct. 4 that the 2022 World Cup should be moved from Qatar to a country that “respects workers.” “Workers from countries including India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and increasingly Africa are used as forced labor, denied the right to join a union, live in squalid living conditions, and often are not paid the wages they are promised,” ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said in a statement. The Federation of International Football Associations, she said, “has the power to make workers' rights a condition of Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup.” FIFA President Sepp Blatter responded that the organization was not responsible for the workers' safety but would not turn a blind eye to the situation.