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UAW Victory at AL Plant Shows “Trade Unionism is Not Necessarily Anathema to Southern Work Culture”


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Citing high healthcare costs, pay issues, and the increased use of temporary workers, employees at an Alabama auto parts plant owned by the Commercial Vehicle group voted 89-45 to join the United Auto Workers (UAW).  

Most workers in the plant, which primarily makes seats for large commercial trucks, earn between $9.70 and $15.80 per hour according to the UAW

The company responded to the unionization vote in a statement, saying: “While we do not believe union representation is in the best interests of the employees, we respect their right to vote on this very important matter.”

Commercial Vehicle says it will respect the certified outcome of the vote following the National Labor Relations Board’s review.  

In a UAW release, 34-year-old Tiffany Moore, an employee at the plant, explained her rationale for favoring unionization:

“Our backs were up against the wall – in just a few years, the company gutted our health insurance, took away personal days, and started replacing jobs with temp positions that pay less than Walmart.  I’ve never been part of a union before, but after years of scraping by while the company ignored our concerns, anyone could see that the only option we had left was to join together to demand the change we need to support ourselves and families.”

Temporary workers have been the most divisive issue. They receive no benefits and earn $9.80 an hour.  According to the UAW, one out of every four jobs at the factory is now a temporary position.  For permanent employees, pay has been capped at $15.80 an hour. Healthcare costs are rising.  Single and spousal health insurance costs $60 per week, and family health insurance costs $110 per week, meaning that workers paid the top wage of $15.80/hour, or roughly $33,000 per year, will see their take-home pay reduced to just $27,000 per year when they purchase family health insurance.  

For veteran workers, the wage cap was instrumental in the decision to unionize.  Alan Amos, a 50-year-old worker, explained:

“I made the choice to join together with others at the plant because I don’t want the next kid who starts at CVG to have to work more than a decade just to be stuck at $15/hour.  Winning this union is life-changing not just for me or my family, but for the next generation of people in Piedmont who will work at this factory and now have a real chance at a decent living.”

In an op-ed for the Anniston Star, CVG worker Becky Buttram explained the conditions facing workers at the plant:

When we express concern with the lack of air-conditioning and poor ventilation — which every day causes many of us to breathe in hazardous smoke and fumes — we’re told they’ll “look into it.” Or we’re given Popsicles to keep cool.

We don’t need Popsicles. We need good jobs. And we know that winning better jobs is important not just for me and my coworkers, but also for manufacturing workers throughout Alabama who continue to face pay cuts in the face of rising costs of living.

Buttram identifies with the broader struggle of the Southern worker:

A recent report found that 1 out of 4 manufacturing jobs in Alabama now pays less than $23,000 a year. This is below the federal poverty level for a family of four. And more than 1 out of every 10 manufacturing workers in Alabama is now employed by temporary staffing agencies — earning 35 percent less than those hired directly.

The company that operates my plant is a perfect example of how major auto manufacturers are now driving a race to the bottom in Alabama. Working families in Piedmont, across Alabama and throughout the country deserve good jobs that allow them to support themselves and their families. It begins with people like us standing up to demand more, and we won’t stop fighting until we see change.

Daniel B. Cornfield, a labor relations expert at Vanderbilt University, said the vote was significant despite the small size of the factory because it shows that unions are still be viable in the South despite recent losses:

“If the U.A.W. can succeed in organizing a Southern manufacturer, it makes a statement that trade unionism is not necessarily an anathema to Southern work culture.”


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