The rise of South Carolina’s auto industry workers has attracted union attention, with mixed reactions from manufacturers and labor analysts.
Palmetto and other southern states have attracted dozens of automakers, battery factories and suppliers gearing up to switch to electric vehicles in the next few years, said Ray Curry, president of the National Auto Workers Union. , said it was fertile ground for organizing campaigns.
“You could say we’re talking to workers across South Carolina, and we’re very interested in representing them in the future,” Curry said in an interview with The Post and Courier earlier this month.
He said one of the Charleston-area auto plants is likely to have an organizing campaign this year, but did not specify which one.
The UAW is keeping an eye on maturing states. In 2022, South Carolina won her more than $6.5 billion in investments from automakers, suppliers and battery companies and her more than 5,300 jobs.
The automotive industry is already a $27 billion economy, providing jobs for 74,000 workers. The union represents only a handful of those employees.
The UAW employs about 55,000 members in the southern states, which is about 15% of the active union members nationwide, and operates Daimler trucks in North Carolina, multi-purpose sports vehicles in Tennessee, and Alabama. We manufacture parts for automobiles and aircraft.
About 2,500 members live in South Carolina, mostly retirees or spouses. The number of UAW members working in South Carolina totals 364 statewide.
Palmetto’s lack of union membership is consistent with its statewide ranking of only 2 percent of unionized workers nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
South Carolina politicians have long had state labor rights laws that discourage union activity, such as Boeing, which opened an aircraft factory in North Charleston to avoid the rampant labor unions at its West Coast factories. We have been promoting to the manufacturer.
Curry, who grew up near Charlotte and is a former director of the UAW region that includes the Carolina, is not daunted.
“The South has changed in many ways, opening up some economic opportunities in degraded areas where fiber (plants) used to reside,” he said. It has increased opportunities for Southern workers, and increased opportunities for Southern workers to be represented.”
The U.S. auto industry was once home to unions, but union membership has plummeted from 50% to 16% of workers since the first free trade agreement between North American nations was signed nearly 30 years ago. Union membership in Southern states is only 4%, and Adam Hirsch said one of the reasons workers in Southern factories are 15% less than unionized workers is that said to be the reason.
“You shouldn’t expect new jobs to automatically become good ones,” Hirsch, a senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, told last week’s Automotive Insights Symposium hosted by the Federal Reserve. Stated. of Chicago.
Kara Walter, senior director of employment policy at the Center for American Progress, is more optimistic.
Citing a Gallup poll, Walter said at the symposium that “the United States is at a moment when overall union support is at its highest level since 1965.” “We are seeing workers at Starbucks, Amazon, the public sector and Microsoft unionizing and winning. I think the moment is here: an opportunity to make the transition to EV something that everyone can relate to and understand themselves.”
South Carolina automakers are divided on whether to support organizing in factories.
“Volvo Cars puts people first and respects the right of workers to choose whether or not to join a union,” a company spokesperson said. Volvo Cars is building the S60 sedan and the battery-powered EX90 sports utility vehicle from its own factory later this year. From Interstate 26 in Ridgeville.
“We also respect the right of our team members not to join the union and to communicate directly with the company,” she said.
Mercedes-Benz Vans, which makes the Sprinter commercial van in North Charleston, said through a spokesperson that it was “committed to remaining neutral on the subject of labor representatives.”
“The choice to join the union or not is up to our team members,” said a spokesperson. “We are committed to providing our team members with a safe and professional workplace that allows for open and ongoing dialogue with colleagues and team leaders on all work-related issues.”
Upstate, the UAW has “nothing of value to offer” to BMW factory workers, said a spokeswoman for the factory that makes the X-model SUV for the global market.
Natalie Bowters, Head of Corporate Communications, BMW Manufacturing, said: “BMW is committed to further developing a successful workforce at our South Carolina site that has delivered tremendous growth and achievements over the past 30 years. We strongly oppose any attempt to interfere with
Bouters said the German automaker had a “unique and uniquely positive outlook here in the Upstate, based on its relationship with BMW and its affiliates, contractors and vendors, based on mutual trust, communication and shared purpose. “We have built a corporate culture,” he said.
UAW’s Curry said management opposition and political animosity did not concern him.
“We care about workers and can talk to them about their true worth, their voice in the workplace, and other things, even in states with labor rights,” he said. Told. “Kentucky is a right-to-work state, as are Tennessee and North Carolina, and we’re getting more members in all of those places.”
Curry said workers’ attitudes have changed significantly during the pandemic, adding that “individuals across the country want a better understanding and a better voice about what their daily lives look like.” .
Curry said his North Carolina upbringing helped him talk to factory workers in South Carolina.
“I think it would be an advantage for me to know traditional history and traditional practices,” said Curry, who holds a bachelor’s degree from UNC-Charlotte and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Alabama. rice field.
Charleston is his favorite vacation spot, he said.
“Auto and parts manufacturing were core industries in the Midwest, but not necessarily in the South,” he said. “When I grew up, it was spinning and textile mills.”
Curry’s role in finally trying to organize workers in South Carolina will depend on the UAW president’s runoff vote. His opponent, Sean Fain, an electrician at the Starantis Automobile Plant in Indiana, was said to be a populist and vowed to take a more confrontational approach with management during contract negotiations. his UAW contract expires in September.
Fain told Reuters news agency: “This is a real reform of the UAW and our commitment to returning union power and control to members by electing leaders to whom they will be held accountable. It’s on purpose,” he said.
Curry, a former assembler at a freightliner plant in Mount Holly, North Carolina, will become union president in 2021 following Rory Gamble’s retirement. He is the former director of Region 8 of the UAW, which includes 17 states and Washington DC, primarily in the South.
Unions will mail their run-off ballots on January 12th and members must return them by February 28th. Voting starts on March 1st.