Category Archives: unions

AFL-CIO eyes organizing TN tobacco farm workers

Prompted by concerns about the conditions faced by Tennessee tobacco workers, the farm labor organizing arm of the AFL-CIO is coming to Tennessee later this month and plans a full union membership campaign by next summer, according to The Tennessean.

The goal, said Baldemar Velasquez, president and founder of the AFL-CIO’s Farm Labor Organizing Committee, or FLOC, is to help workers navigate complaints, wage issues and disputes with employers or contractors.

“We want to offer them a helpline,” Velasquez said.

FLOC is targeting four tobacco-growing states, including North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia, to unionize adults and teenage laborers. Organizers signed up more than 1,000 workers in North Carolina this summer but faced “a lot of intimidation, retaliation and harassment,” including one labor union organizer being handcuffed, Velasquez said.

They found poor conditions in the fields and many of the labor camps where workers lived, including “some farms where they treat farm animals better than the workers.”

Velasquez said his group believes pressures from big tobacco corporations are ultimately to blame for poor conditions facing workers.

Anti-UAW group moves to set up alternative union at Chattanooga VW plant

A group of employees at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant is developing plans to set up an alternative to the United Auto Workers Union, reports the Chattanooga TFP.

“It’s totally legal,” said VW employee Mike Burton, an anti-UAW leader at the plant. He said the group hopes to gather enough signatures to have an election for the American Council of Employees.

It would counter UAW Local 42, which the Detroit-based union set up in June with hopes of gaining enough members that VW will recognize it.

The ACE website said its group is in a hurry because it believes VW will announce as early as today that it will give office space to Local 42 in the plant.

Scott Wilson, a VW spokesman, had no comment.

Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer, discounted the independent unionizing attempt, adding that it would differ greatly from Local 42.

“What does an anti-union union offer?” he asked.

Casteel has said that the UAW already has arrived at a consensus with VW.

“Upon Local 42 signing up a meaningful portion of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga work force, we’re confident the company will recognize Local 42 by dealing with it as a members’ union that represents those employees who join the local,” he said.

Unions won’t appeal judge’s dismissal of lawsuit to block Memphis wage cuts

The lawsuit that city of Memphis employee labor unions filed in 2011 to stop a 4.6 percent wage cut has reached its end, according to the Commercial Appeal.

A federal judge dismissed the unions’ lawsuit last month, and they have decided not to appeal, union attorney Deborah Godwin said Tuesday.

She said the July ruling by U.S. District Judge Samuel H. Mays Jr. doesn’t attack the validity of the unions’ agreements with the city or the impasse procedure, which is a method for resolving stalled contract negotiations. She also said unions believe the lawsuit prompted the Memphis City Council last year to reverse the 4.6 percent wage cut.

Unions could still have pursued back pay, but chose not to, she said.

“And it was also felt that even if we won at the Court of Appeals, that the likelihood of our ever collecting the money from the city — given its recent financial actions — would be slim to none,” she said.

The lawsuit was part of an ongoing conflict between the Memphis government and the labor unions that represent police officers, firefighters and other employees. The city is trying to cut the costs of employee and retiree benefits, including health care. The unions have responded with demonstrations, legal action, publicity campaigns and support of pro-union candidates in elections.

Corker says pro-union vote would have killed VW expansion

While the United Auto Workers says its Chattanooga local has signed up more than 670 Volkswagen workers, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Wednesday that the VW plant expansion would not have happened had the union won the factory’s February election.

Further from the Chattanooga TFP:
“What I know for a fact … the announcement would not have occurred for a lot of reasons,” Corker said. “Plenty of people in Germany understood the impact.”

One reason Corker cited was concerns raised by Republican state lawmakers about the UAW and the election process at the plant.

“Look at where the General Assembly was,” the former Chattanooga mayor said.

State House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville; House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga; and Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, said just prior to the vote that state incentives for the expansion would be in jeopardy should the UAW win the election.

Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer, said Wednesday he doesn’t know if lawmakers would have “killed off 2,000 jobs” over an ideological position against unionizing the plant.

But, he said, VW doesn’t have a problem with union representation at the factory.

“VW and the UAW negotiated an election agreement. They didn’t have to do that. VW gave us access [to workers during the election]. It had a neutral stance,” Casteel said. “If they had a hesitance, why did they do all those things?”

Last month, VW said it would assemble a new sport utility vehicle in Chattanooga. It will invest $900 million, including $600 million in the city, and employ another 2,000 people. The state said it is providing $177.8 million in grants and training assistance as part of the $274.2 million incentive package for the expansion.

The UAW lost the February organizing vote, 712 to 626 margin. In June, the UAW set up a non-dues-paying local in Chattanooga and started signing up members.

Casteel said the local has signed up “substantially more” than 670 members, which would have been enough to win the election.

Earlier, he said that if the local signed up a meaningful portion of VW’s Chattanooga work force, “we’re confident the company will recognize Local 42 by dealing with it as a members’ union that represents those employees who join the local.”

Judge dismisses union lawsuit against Memphis over wage reduction

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that labor unions filed to challenge the 2011 decision by the city of Memphis to cut employees’ wages 4.6 percent, reports the Commercial Appeal.

A trial had been set for Sept. 15, but on Monday, U.S. District Judge Samuel H. Mays approved the city’s motion for summary judgment, a step that ends the case for now.

The ruling calls into question the validity of the city’s agreements with labor unions.

Municipal labor unions had argued that the wage cut violated terms of contracts called memorandums of understanding (MOUs) that they had negotiated with the city. The judge wrote that those agreements don’t apply unless the Memphis City Council chooses to fund them.

“Despite lengthy discovery, there is no evidence that the mayor promised to present a budget to the City Council that fully funded the wage terms of the MOUs,” Mays wrote. “The record demonstrates that the MOUs were negotiated under the mutual understanding that the City Council might later reduce wages.”

Allan Wade, an attorney for the city, said the decision validates the view that the City Council has the freedom to make decisions that are in the government’s best interest.

“To that extent, I think it’s a big victory for the taxpayers of the city,” said Wade.

Volkswagen to build new SUV at Chattanooga plant, add 2,000 jobs

By Erik Schelzig and Tom Krisher, Associated Press
NASHVILLE — Volkswagen plans to build a new seven-passenger SUV at its factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, adding about 2,000 factory jobs as it tries to reverse U.S. sales that have fallen for the past two years.

The German automaker announced Monday that it will invest $600 million to expand the factory and set up a new research center that will employ about 200 engineers. The research facility will coordinate products for North America to quickly include customer feedback into planned and existing models, the company said.

The announcement comes after months of political wrangling over the role of organized labor at the factory, which now employs about 1,500 workers and makes only one model, the Passat midsize car.

Production of the new SUV, based on the CrossBlue concept vehicle unveiled in Detroit last year, is scheduled to start at the end of 2016. It gives VW an entry into an important segment of the U.S. market — the family people hauler.

VW sales fell almost 7 percent last year and are down more than 13 percent so far this year, largely because the company doesn’t have competitive products in key market segments. VW had a big year in 2012, with sales rising 35 percent to more than 438,000. But sales fell to about 408,000 last year, and the brand sold only 179,000 through June this year.
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UAW says it’s setting up local union at Chattanooga VW plant

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An official with the United Auto Workers, which suffered a stinging defeat in its attempt to unionize Volkswagen’s assembly plant in Tennessee earlier this year, said Thursday that it is forming a new local at the plant.

The union is confident the German automaker will recognize the union if it signs up a enough workers at the Chattanooga plant, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel told The Tennessean newspaper ( that. If successful, it would become the first unionized foreign auto plant in the South.

“We would fully expect that Volkswagen would deal with this local union if it represents a substantial portion of its employees,” Casteel told the paper. “It’s dependent on the employees and what they want to do.”
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TN Chamber laments ‘dirty, dirty deed’ in falsely-labeled ‘push poll’

Nashville voters living in a district with a hot school board race underway got what are described as “push poll” calls from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, reports Andrea Zelinski. But they weren’t … and the Chamber thinks the Legislature should do something about it.

Questions in the roughly five-minute poll using the chamber’s name included asking whether endorsements from the School Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Metropolitan Education Association (MNEA) would help earn their vote.

“We’ve never seen anything as dirty as this that’s been done,” said Bradley Jackson, a lobbyist and vice president of government relations for the state chamber who said he does not know who is behind the poll. “This was a dirty, dirty deed.”

The calls apparently began after employees from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Nashville, left for the weekend. Bradley said people contacted by the pollsters said their caller ID indicated the call was from the Tennessee chamber and listed the chamber’s office phone number. The calls appear limited to Friday evening, he said.

The SEIU had nothing to do with the poll, said Freda Player, political director for the union’s Local 205 which had endorsed candidate Becky Sharpe on Friday. The endorsement a day after the Nashville Chamber endorsed candidate Mary Pierce citing “her careful skepticism of labor agreements that tie the hands of the director of schools.”

Player said she heard about the calls. She said she was told the pollster asked residents whether they would vote for Sharpe or Pierce; how knowing that Sharpe has children in public schools and Pierce has children in private schools would affect their vote; asking whether they favor charter schools given as public schools they distance teachers from unions; and whether endorsements from the Chamber, SEIU, MNEA, the Tennessean and Mayor Karl Dean would effect their vote.

Jackson said he learned about the poll after receiving calls Friday night from people familiar with the chamber and confused why it would conduct a pro-union poll. He said the chamber is investigating the situation, and is willing to go to state lawmakers next year to see if there is a way to stop the practice from happening.

“Now we’re going to play in the legislature to work to fix his,” said Jackson.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, who hails from that school district, said she received calls of concern about the poll and would work with the chamber to see if there is something that can be done at the state level.

“This I think was more of a push poll, in other words trying to push people toward a candidate or away from a candidate and I think that’s what had people a little concerned,” Harwell said. “I would be more than happy to sit with the chamber and work through it with a staff attorney to see if there’s something we could possibly do. Off hand, I don’t know what it would be.”

Unions question tax-exempt status of charter school advocacy group

Labor groups in Nashville are challenging the tax-exempt status of a charter school advocacy organization, contending does more lobbying than Internal Revenue Service rules allow, reports WPLN. The complaint comes in a letter to the IRS.

The letter suggests the Tennessee Charter School Center is just a bunch of lobbyists and shouldn’t qualify for tax-exempt status.

To be a 501(c) (3) non-profit, less than 15 percent of an organization’s spending can go toward lobbying government officials. In a letter to the IRS, a group called Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice points out that the Tennessee Charter Center has eight registered lobbyists. They include a third of the organization’s staff, along with big-name contract lobbyists.

CEO Greg Thompson says he’s well aware of the 15 percent rule and that his organization is nowhere near the limit.

“I’m registered, but I spend probably less than five percent of my time actually doing anything related to lobbying,” he says. “There are several other folks who fit that same bill.”

Link to the letter text is HERE.

Haslam ‘re-engaged’ with VW — no union talk

Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday his administration is back in discussions with Volkswagen officials over state incentives and other assistance programs needed to persuade the German auto manufacturer to build a new line of vehicles at its Chattanooga plant, reports the Times-Free Press.

“We’ve re-engaged in discussions with them,” Haslam told reporters. “I don’t really have any update beyond that except we are talking with them.”

Asked if his administration is pegging incentives to whether the VW plant is eventually unionized, Haslam said no.

“There’s no discussion about unions,” Haslam said.

Volkswagen of America chief Michael Horn told Automotive News in a report published Thursday that new midsize and small sport utility vehicles are needed by the automaker to spur U.S. growth.

Horn said that the company has reached a key plateau of 400,000 annual vehicle sales in the United States and that when new SUVs come on line “we plan to build up from there.”

VW is close to making a decision on where to assemble a new midsize SUV, which is slated to be in dealer showrooms in 2016. The automaker has said that Chattanooga is the front-runner to make the vehicle ahead of VW operations in Mexico.