Stephen Silvia of American University gives book talk on Organizing Foreign-Owned Auto Plants in the U.S. South

By Amaury Pineda, Policy Analyst, Jobs with Justice

On May 24, 2023, Dr. Stephen Silvia of American University School of International Service gave a book talk on his recently published book, The UAW’s Southern Gamble: Organizing Workers at Foreign-Owned Vehicle Plants. The book talk was hosted by Jobs with Justice and catered by Moby Dick.

Using archives, newspapers, and interviews, Dr. Silvia shared some lessons from UAW organizing efforts in foreign companies in the US South. His findings indicate that while it is still possible to organize in the South, it has become harder. His research encompassed 16 organizing drives that took place in nine plants of four vehicle manufacturing companies – Nissan, Daimler Trucks North America, Mercedes US International, and Volkswagen – from 1984 to 2019.

First, Dr. Silvia unpacked the cases of two Nissan plants in Smyrna, Tennessee and Canton, Mississippi, where the UAW failed to win a union, but for different reasons. In the case of Smyrna, TN, the UAW was unsuccessful mainly because of a set of anti-union innovations oriented at creating the idea that managers and the rank-in-file were all one. For example, they all wore the same uniform, and the company eliminated the executive cafeteria. The company also engaged in more aggressive tactics. For example, the company gave workers reduced-rate rental cars, screened workers to identify union sympathizers, installed monitors in the workplace through which they ran negative information about the UAW, and had one-on-one meetings to check on workers’ satisfaction. These tactics were part of the ‘Union Avoidance Playbook’ devised by Nissan’s Head of Operations, Marvin Runyon, and were key to preventing organizing efforts in this plant.

At the Canton, MS plant, the UAW used a new strategy that aimed to blend union organizing efforts with the civil rights movement. Nevertheless, the union failed to organize this plant. In Canton, workers had experienced considerable poverty before Nissan’s arrival and did not want to risk job security for the potential of better working conditions.

Dr. Silvia also explained how international cooperation can help in organizing efforts, highlighting the UAW’s success at Daimler Trucks North America in Mount Holly, North Carolina. After winning the union election and negotiating for their first contract for almost two years, the UAW realized they would have to strike. However, before doing so, a few of the union representatives traveled to Germany and managed to get the head of the Daimler Group Works Council, Karl Feuerstein, to support their cause. The UAW got its first contract about two months after Feuerstein phoned the American executives.

The case of the Mercedes US plant in Vance, Alabama, illustrates how a ‘split workforce’ diminishes organizing efforts. Dr. Silvia used the term ‘split workforce’ to refer to situations where half or so of the workers are temporary employees, and the rest are permanent workers. Notwithstanding UAW’s many efforts to organize Mercedes-Benz workers in the Alabama plant, their campaign never picked up steam because Mercedes’ permanent employees were paid above the UAW’s contract rate and also received many benefits.

In other words, permanent employees did not care to organize because they already had a good deal vis-à-vis their temporary colleagues who received low wages and no benefits. Although temporary workers had all the reasons to organize, they were kept in line under the promise of a permanent position, yet only a handful ever made it.

During the discussion, a DC LERA member mentioned the report “Job Quality and Community Well-Being in Mississippi and Alabama’s Manufacturing Facilities,” where the authors found that non-unionized workers face many other issues besides wages, such as work-family balance due to rotating shifts. When asked whether unions pay attention to these issues, Dr. Silvia noted that yes, he saw this phenomenon at different plants. For example, in Volkswagen Chattanooga, the main discussion still is paid time off, and at Nissan, itis workplace injuries. The UAW paid attention to issues that resonate with workers to make the case for organizing.

See HERE for a more detailed version of this report.

DC LERA welcomes Merrilee Logue of BCBSA to the Board of Governors

The Board of Governors of the Washington, DC Chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association voted to accept the nomination of Merrilee Logue to serve as a DC LERA Board Member at its meeting on April 19, 2023. Merrilee is Executive Director of the BCBS Association National Labor Office and replaces Bonnie Summers, who recently retired.

Merrilee became Executive Director of BCBSA NLO in August 2022. She is an experienced executive with over 30 years in the healthcare industry, with demonstrated leadership in Labor Relations, Healthcare and Employee Benefits. In addition to her experience in the healthcare industry, Merrilee has served as a Board Member  of Crossroads4Hope, and the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City.

You can get to know Merrilee a bit by tuning into this video. Welcome, Merrilee!

DC LERA holds event on Collective Bargaining in Baseball at GWU

By Frank Fasi III, Teaching Assistant and Student of Business and Finance, George Washington University

On May 4th, 2023, a DC LERA panel was held at the George Washington University School of Business to discuss the labor-management relations in professional baseball, with a focus on the minor leagues. Speaking that day was Brad Snyder, a Professor of Law at Georgetown University who has published numerous books relating to sports and the legal environment. Joined by him was Simon Rosenblum-Larson, an organizer and former minor league baseball player drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays, and program director for “More than Baseball,” a non-profit working toward the betterment of working conditions for minor league players, as well as the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center. Moderating the discussion was Mark Hyman, Director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland and co-director of The Great China Baseball Hunt, an upcoming documentary exploring the world of baseball in China.

In attendance were members of DC LERA and baseball fanatics. Guests ranged from current university students simply interested in sports to foreign dignitaries from various embassies. All were intrigued to learn about the unspoken complexities of labor relations within the minor league, a topic the MLB too often attempts to hide from the public eye.

Topics covered varied from player salaries being below the poverty level to conditions of baseball academies in Latin America. Mr. Rosenblum-Larson had much to share regarding the process of unionizing the minor leagues and the integration into the MLBPA, the union representing all major and minor league athletes. He went into great detail about the first ratified minor-league collective bargaining agreement discussing both the huge improvements in the agreement and the areas where progress is still needed. Professor Snyder spoke about past instances of players being too afraid to speak-out against Major League Baseball due to concerns for retaliation, relating to Rosenblum-Larson’s own story of being released from the team after revealing sub-optimal working conditions in a Washington Post article. All panelists were knowledgeable and passionate about their expertise, engaging the audience and propelling the discussion of what goes on behind-the-scenes of major and minor league baseball.

The event was co-sponsored by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism of University of Maryland, the American Constitution Society DC Lawyer Chapter, and the Masters of Human Resources Program, Department of Management, GW School of Business.

DC LERA thanks Bonnie Summers of BCBSA for service on Board

Bonnie Summers steps down from the board of DC LERA as she hands over responsibility to Merrilee Logue as Executive Director of the Blue Cross-Blue Shield (BCBS) National Labor Office.  Bonnie’s involvement with BCBS National Labor Office spans nearly four decades, including 20 years as the Executive Director.   The BCBS National Labor Office acts as a liaison between organized labor and 34 BCBS companies across the United States, serving over 17 million workers, retirees, and their families.  Bonnie played a critical role in national LERA, joining the Executive Board in 2002, and played an important role in launching the health care industry council of LERA.  She also was an active member and board member of DC LERA for the past 20 years.   We know Bonnie’s passion for healthcare and organized labor will continue and we look forward to her participation in DC and National LERA events in the future.

Steve Sleigh, President, Sleigh Strategies LLC

DC LERA hosts Betony Jones of Department of Energy for talk on Green Energy Jobs

By Mohamed El-ZeinResearch Associate, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office

On March 15, 2023, the Washington, DC Chapter of Labor and Employment Relations Association (DC LERA, dclera.org) hosted a roundtable discussion with Betony Jones, Director of the Office of Energy Jobs at the U.S. Department of Energy. The event was held at the Embassy of Sweden.

Betony’s team at DOE supervises the adoption and implementation of Community Benefits Plans with groups that receive funding and loans under recently created infrastructure programs Community Benefits Plans are based on a set of four core policy priorities: investing in America’s workforce; engaging communities and labor (including through project labor agreements); advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; and implementing Justice 40. These key principles, when incorporated comprehensively into project proposals and executed upon, will help ensure broadly shared prosperity in the clean energy transition. These programs help create clean energy jobs that are stable, just, and equitable for American workers.

The passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the CHIPS Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act is bringing about massive investments and public funding through both direct investments and tax credits for advanced manufacturing and climate and energy infrastructure. The laws demonstrate on-the-ground to American workers that addressing the climate crisis can be done with investments that create good jobs and economic opportunities. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions can help American workers get into and remain in the middle class while helping the U.S. economy grow.

Applicants for funding create Community Benefits Plans and submit them to DOE for review in order to compete for funds to support the commercialization of particular technologies. Applicants must make commitments to creating quality jobs with a plan for attracting, investing in, and retaining the skilled workforce necessary to achieve project success. These plans must focus on relevant workplace issues such as wages and benefits, health and safety, investments in training, and affirmative support for worker organizing and collective bargaining. In addition, these plans need to detail efforts to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and access such as providing childcare benefits to get more women in the workplace, ensuring better access for workers who have had trouble within the legal system in the past, supporting pre-apprenticeship programs that allow for access into the middle class without a college degree, and breaking barriers to entry to work for individuals in underserved and marginalized communities. These are examples of pathways for American workers to the middle class.

The implementation of Community Benefits Plans, including through the use of collective bargaining agreements and other legally-enforceable community benefits agreements has enabled proactive outreach from companies to labor unions fostering dialogue and signing MOUs and neutrality agreements, which unions report is unprecedented.

The open dialogue discussion allowed the audience to raise concerns regarding this transition to clean energy and its effects on well-established communities that have relied heavily on the fossil fuels industry. Betony emphasized that these policies aim to include, not alienate, these communities and enable them to transition from the traditional energy sector with economic diversification and equally good jobs in the clean energy sector. Some of these clean energy policies are driving investments to fossil fuel dependent communities to support the economic and energy transition.

The goal of the Office of Energy Jobs is to support the transition to a more resilient, cleaner, reliable energy system by focusing on improved job quality in the energy sector.  By focusing on attracting and retaining skilled workers with good-quality jobs, plans for diversity and inclusion, benefits to underserved and marginalized communities, and accountability to the community and the workers. the U.S. can create an equitable energy system while revitalizing the middle class. You can learn more about these programs and other initiatives to create an equitable and just economy for American workers in the hyperlinks below.

References

Community Benefits Programs 

Creating Green Economy through Union Jobs

Bipartisan Infrastructure and Investment and Jobs Act

Inflation Reduction Act

Tribute to Daniel Haufler, DC LERA Board Member

Today we buried a friend and brother, our fellow LERA member Daniel Haufler. He passed away on 27 February 2023 while serving at the German Embassy in Washington, DC. As Labor Counselor, Daniel was part of the LERA family. His remains were brought to Berlin, his home of many years, where he was laid to rest today.

“Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it.” Those words by one of his favorite singers, Bob Dylan, seem to be a fitting motive for Daniel’s life. A native of the German city of Mainz, Daniel was eager to explore places in near and far. Just in time for the falling of the Berlin Wall, he moved to Berlin in 1989 to study literature and history. His studies later led him to Munich as well as across the Atlantic, to Duke University.

An avid reader and a true intellectual, Daniel followed his calling and became a journalist. He is remembered as a talented and passionate opinion editor, working for many years at the German newspapers taz and Berliner Zeitung. A “collector of opinions”, a former colleague called him. A good listener, intellectually curious, unobtrusive with his own views, everyone agreed.

In 2017, he took on a position as Managing Editor at the German trade union confederation DGB where he was in charge of the debate journal Gegenblende, publishing op-eds on current political and social issues and launching a podcast.

When, in 2021, the opportunity arose to move to Washington, DC to work as Labor Counselor at the German Embassy, he happily accepted, returning to the US, a country he had come to love during his days at Duke University.

The many friends who came to his side during the last days of his brief terminal illness were a testament to Daniel’s exceptional kindheartedness and his ability to maintain long and meaningful friendships – over decades and across long distances.

Anja Wehler-Schoeck

Berlin, Germany

DC LERA votes to adopt Early Career, Nonprofit, and In Transition membership categories

At its February 22, 2023 board meeting, DC LERA voted to adopt three new reduced price membership categories. These include:

  • Early Career Member – $20. This includes recent graduates, apprentices, and those who have switched to a new career.
  • Nonprofit / Not for Profit Member – $20. This includes nonprofit employees and people who work for not for profit organizations like trade unions or on Capitol Hill (for example).
  • In Transition Member – $20. This includes jobseekers who are unemployed or underemployed.

In adopting these new membership categories, the Board of Governors hopes to make membership in DC LERA accessible to a broader section of the Washington, DC area community working in or interested in pursuing workplace-related fields.

Click here to join DC LERA!

Erin Johansson of Jobs with Justice joins DC LERA Board

At its February 22, 2023 board meeting, DC LERA approved the nomination of Erin Johansson to serve as a member of the DC LERA Board of Governors.

Erin brings a wealth of experience to her role. In addition to managing the research program of Jobs with Justice Education Fund, she coordinates the Labor Research and Action Network (LRAN), which brings together scholars and practitioners to build workplace and economic power for working people. She has written numerous publications for Jobs With Justice and American Rights at Work, on topics ranging from labor law, contingent work, the National Labor Relations Board, Walmart, and the broader value of unions to communities. Erin served on the board of national LERA and serves on the editorial board of the Labor and Employment Relations Association’s publication, Perspectives on Work.

We are delighted to have Erin join the Board and look forward to working with her.

DC LERA makes successful transition from Virtual to Live events in 2022

The Washington, DC chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association (DC LERA) benefits from the participation of a very rich community of practitioners, policymakers, academics, and labor attaches from a number of embassies (including France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, and Taiwan) in Washington DC.

In 2022, DC LERA continued to host and co-host several events featuring members of this community – all while making the not-so-easy transition from virtual to live and hybrid events. We organized sessions on the future of work, global labor rights, the gig economy in Europe, labor issues at the USPS, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the legacy of slavery and construction and deconstruction of racism in the US, Europe and South Africa, the history of 925 and equal pay for women in the US, the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, the concept of “dirty work,” and an update on the NLRB.

Our speakers were leading thinkers and practitioners on all of these topics, including Karen Nussbaum of Working America, Lane Windham of the Kalmanovitz Initiative at Georgetown University, Ernie DuBester of the FLRA, Thea Lee of US DOL, Sunnie Rucker-Chang of Ohio State University, Mark Clark of the Kogod School of Business at American University, Randolph McLaughlin of Pace University in New York, Anton Hajjar of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service, Rebecca Dixon of the National Employment Law Project, Mark Pearce of the Georgetown Law School Worker Rights Institute, Richard Bock of the NLRB, and Melissa Fisher of the NYU Institute of Public Knowlege.

In addition, we hosted several international experts on workplace issues, including Annamaria Westregård of Lund University, Kgomotso Mufamadi of the University of Johannesburg, Mijke Houwerzijl of Tilburg University Law School, and Roman Kormann of the German Trade Union Federation.

As we transitioned from purely virtual to live, hybrid and some virtual events, we met at the ILO, the Kogod School of Business at American University, and Georgetown Law Center in order to reach out to our publics – especially students. Our partners included the Worker Rights Institute at Georgetown Law School, the American Constitution Society DC Lawyers Chapter, the Workplace Prof Blog, and the African Labour Law Society.

It is the hope of 2022 DC LERA President, Dr. David Jacobs, that we inspired some students to think about the field of labor and workplace relations for their careers – and that our events and activities gave participants and attendees a bit of hope as the pandemic continued to shape our lives.

In 2023, we plan on continuing the DC LERA tradition of bringing professionals and students of all stripes to the table to discuss topical and timely workplace matters.

DC LERA hits the ground running with great in-person event on Nonprofit Union Organizing

DC LERA started 2023 off with a great event organized and moderated by incoming Membership Secretary Ben Kreider, All Workers are Workers: Union Organizing at Nonprofits. The event was held at the Economic Policy Institute. Many thanks to outgoing DC LERA President David Jacobs for organizing all the logistics.

Our guest speakers were Katie Parker and Justin Schweitzer, both of the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU), International Federal of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 70. Both Katie and Justin gave eloquent presentations discussing both the need for and the complexities of organizing workers in nonprofit organizations – not to mention negotiating collective bargaining agreements. An active and engaged audience posed several questions.

Thanks everyone for turning out! Stay tuned for more DC LERA events this year, and please reach out