US auto industry workers launch major UAW union drive

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UAW strikers picket a Stellantis factory

MOTOR industry workers at more than a dozen non-union automakers have announced simultaneous campaigns across the country to join the UAW.

Thousands of non-union autoworkers are signing cards to join the union.

The organising drive will cover nearly 150,000 autoworkers across at least thirteen automakers.

One of the strongest campaigns is at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky assembly complex, where 7,800 workers make the company’s  Camry and and Lexus ES.

Toyota announced it was raising pay just after UAW members won a pay rise at the Big Three General Motors Ford Stellantis.

Jeff Allen a Toyota worker in Kentucky said: ‘We’ve lost so much since I started here, and the raise won’t make up for that.

‘It won’t make up for the health benefits we’ve lost, it won’t make up for the wear and tear on our bodies.

‘They can give you a raise today and jack up your health benefits tomorrow.

‘A union contract is the only way to win what’s fair.’

Many of the non-union companies use a mix of full-time, temporary and contract employees to divide the workforce and depress wages.

At Hyundai’s assembly plant in Montgomery, Alabama Kissy Cox has worked for eight years in the paint shop as an employee of Glovis, a contractor that operates inside the plant.

Cox made $9.25 an hour when she started at Glovis in 2014. She didn’t become a full-time Hyundai employee until July 2022.

Cox said: ‘Hyundai would be so much better with a union.

‘In my area, we struggle to keep a full staff because so many people are out injured.

‘Being in the union, having a real say for safer jobs, it would be a better way of life for all of us.’

The UAW is also looking to recruit new members at the Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW, Honda, Nissan, Subaru and Mazda and in the electric vehicle sector at Tesla and Rivian, Lucid.

UAW President Shaun Fain said: ‘To all the autoworkers out there working without the benefits of a union: now it’s your turn.

‘Since we began our Stand Up Strike, the response from autoworkers at non-union companies has been overwhelming.

‘Workers across the country, from the West to the Midwest and especially in the South, are reaching out to join our movement and to join the UAW.

‘The time is right. And the answer is simple. You don’t have to live paycheque to paycheque.

‘You don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay your rent or feed your family while the company makes billions. A better life is out there.’

The tight jobs market since the pandemic is driving workers to demand more from automakers.

Jeremy Kimbrell, a measurement machine operator at the Mercedes-Benz Tuscaloosa assembly plant in Alabama said: ‘The company is having trouble hiring people.

‘They introduced two tiers here, so they’re having such a hard time keeping the new workers. It’s just a revolving door.

‘A whole lot of people who never talked union before, they know we have to stand up.

‘They’re saying give me a card to sign.’

Lori Paton started working at the electric vehicle (EV) startup Rivian at its Bloomington, Illinois assembly plant in October 2022.

Paton said: ‘The company likes to tell us we’re making the plane while flying it, and that explains a lot about the problems we have.

‘We have all sorts of safety issues. Turnover is terrible.

‘Every group has a story about a new employee who did not make it to first break.

‘The lack of safety, the low pay, the forced overtime, there are so many reasons we need to be union.’

Meanwhile, Remote animation workers are joining the collective call for union recognition, following a year of strikes in the entertainment industry in Hollywood.

In a letter to Walt Disney the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees wrote: ‘On Friday, 10 workers at Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS) filed for a union election with the National Labour Relations Board.

‘The employees reside in six different US states, working remotely for the company.

‘They are seeking representation from the Animation Guild (TAG) which is a section IATSE in order to secure better pay and benefits.’

TAG has said: ‘Once Return to Work protocols were initiated after the Covid-19 pandemic, employers told many animation workers who chose to work remotely that their working arrangements would fall outside contractual boundaries, jeopardising workers’ union status.

‘Currently, workers hired in Los Angeles (LA) to work remotely outside the county and state are able to secure union coverage.

‘But WDAS and many other animation studios don’t extend this right to workers hired outside of LA county, which could lead to fewer benefits and lower pay.

‘In 2023, there has been a big push for unionisation by workers from studios including Nickelodeon, WB Animation, Cartoon Network Studios and Powerhouse Animation.

‘And this summer, workers in VFX and video game production also joined unions many for the first time.

‘We are writing this letter to encourage Disney leadership to do the right thing and recognise the demand of Production Coordinators, Production Managers, and Production Supervisors to join IATSE Local 839, The Animation Guild (TAG).

This is the same union that represents the artists and technicians we work alongside each and every day.

‘The Walt Disney Company is a massive company with a legacy that spans 100 years.

‘It is time for Disney to recognise the contributions that production workers make to ensure the creative, financial, and cultural success of Disney’s animated features and special projects.

‘It’s time we have the protections of a union like our editors and artists and other colleagues in the Animation Guild.

‘Disney, we demand you do the right thing and voluntarily recognise the IATSE and its Local 839 branch.

‘The endurance of Disney for the past 100 years is only made possible by the workers who create the beloved films and shows that have inspired generations.

‘Wouldn’t it be incredible if Disney began their next 100 years by recognising and supporting their workers’ rights to organise.’

Sincerely,

Production Coordinators, Production Supervisors, Production Managers and additional supporters.

The Teamsters and Amazon Workers United unions issued a joint statement on Friday in which they said that they will continue to carry out strike actions after they went on strike across the United States last Monday on what is known as ‘Cyber Monday’.

The statement read: ‘Warehouse workers and drivers from over 20 Amazon facilities across the country rallied against low pay and dangerous working conditions on Cyber Monday.

‘From petitions and marches within facilities, to rallies and strikes outside, workers are demanding an end to Amazon’s exploitation that puts profits and packages ahead of their livelihoods.

‘Cyber Monday is the largest online shopping day of the year. Amazon’s profits are boosted, but employees pay the price, with exploding workloads and mandatory overtime, for the same low wages.’

Warehouse workers at SWF1 in New York’s Hudson Valley held a rally and picket with supporters outside their warehouse.

It is the first public action by SWF1United since it was set up as a branch by the Teamsters union.

In Southern California, drivers from the company’s DAX8 warehouse in Palmdale – members of Teamsters Local 396 are continuing their five-month long indefinite strike

Brahvan Ranga, Political Director at For the Many pressure group said: ‘We’re proud to support SWF1United as they rally and practice picket for pay increases and safer working conditions.

‘Amazon warehouse workers have been mistreated and exploited for far too long.

‘History shows us that workers win when they organise and we will continue to stand with Amazon workers and the Teamsters as they take on Jeff Bezos and his greed.’