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Sep
2016
29

Member-phis, TN: Workers On of the South’s Largest Development Projects Vote to Join IBEW

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Workers at the Electrolux appliance factory in Memphis, Tennessee have voted to join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). The vote, which was held on Tuesday, went in favor of representation by a two-to-one margin.

The $190 million Swedish-owned Electrolux plant is one of the largest economic development projects in southwest Memphis. The factory wasn’t always based in Tennessee, however:

Electrolux moved the high-end kitchen appliance factory to Memphis from a unionized facility in Canada, drawn in part by incentives and the prospect of lower labor costs.

Announced in late 2010, the project subsequently won more than $150 million in public incentives, mostly from the state, in addition to a 15-year partial freeze of city and county property taxes.

Employees at the Electrolux factory voted against union representation in May 2015. IBEW Local 474 business manager Paul Shaffer said the campaign to win a second vote began almost as soon as the last one ended:

“We look forward to working with them to come to an agreement that’s mutually beneficial to both sides,” Shaffer said. “They’re a good company and we want to keep them here.”

But Electrolux didn’t play particularly fair:

Schaffer said that the company held captive audience meetings criticizing the IBEW, despite it being a unionized company in Sweden that often touts its good relations with unions abroad. Management told workers in these meetings that the Memphis facility might be shut down if workers voted to unionize. However, the IBEW – with the help of IG Metall, who represents thousands of Electrolux workers in Sweden – was able to push back against this rhetoric.

Labor contract negotiations will begin after the election results are certified. Already, though, the impact of an organizing win in the the South is being broadcast as a big win:

“I think that this campaign is a good indicator of what the South is ready to do,” said John Murphy, the IBEW’s Organizing Coordinator for Tennessee. “The Electrolux victory has proven that [workers] can be successful and the IBEW has proven that we can assist them in their efforts to gain respect.”

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