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Organizing Victories Show Labor’s Prospects in Traditionally Anti-Worker VA are “Looking Good”


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Virginia is one of the least union-friendly enclaves in the country. It was a pioneer in right-to-work legislation, passing anti-labor laws way back in 1947. But workers from Newport News to Danville have reason to believe the tides may be turning in their favor:

A total of 23,000 Virginians, including 460 at the Alcoa Howmet plant in Hampton, joined unions last year, bringing membership to 202,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means a bit more than one in 20 Virginia workers pay dues to a union, or slightly less than half the national average.

While union presence is still relatively small in Virginia, labor leaders have stepped up their organizing efforts over the last few years to noticeable effect:

Union activity has focused mostly on a few key areas. One is the factories that supply automakers, where the United Auto Workers union is making a concerted push.

Union organizers are also focusing on foreign firms that have large union workforces in their home countries, as when the roughly 300 workers at IKEA’s Danville furniture plant voted to unionize in 2011. Union organizers’ arguments that what’s good in one place ought to be good in another has been effective.

Matt Yonka, president of the AFL-CIO’s Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council, believes that union benefits are appealing to Virginians at a time when money is tight and work is scarce. From the Daily Press:

“I think people are getting fed up with being beaten up,” he said. “Just this morning, I was talking to a guy at a nonunion shop about pay and benefits and he said if he’d known that, he’d have signed up 20 years ago.”

At the state labor federation’s biennial convention last week, AFL-CIO national president Richard Trumka offered his own sunny outlook on the state of organized labor in Virginia: “Sometimes, in the day to day, you don’t see it. But from the 20,000-foot view, Virginia’s looking good.”


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