Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Advocates for Southern Auto Workers' Right to Unionize

Alex Lewis

Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Advocates for Southern Auto Workers’ Right to Unionize

Workers at car factories in the South should be able to join unions without feeling pressured by bosses or anti-union politicians, said acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su. She spoke in Atlanta, saying that it’s important for workers to have this choice without fear of punishment.

Recently, the United Auto Workers union has been pushing to organize more auto plants in the South. They had success in a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where 73% of workers voted to join the union. This was the first time the UAW succeeded in organizing a Southern plant owned by a foreign carmaker. Now, workers at Mercedes factories in Alabama will vote on joining the UAW in May. The union is also targeting plants in Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas.

However, leaders in Southern states have been against unions for a long time. Before the Volkswagen vote, six Republican governors from the South criticized the union drive, saying it could hurt jobs. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee called the union vote “a mistake” and “a loss for workers.”

Ford Motor Co.’s CEO Jim Farley even hinted that the company might reconsider where it builds cars after the UAW strike last year. If more automakers unionize, it could make it more expensive for them to operate in the U.S. But Su emphasized that President Biden’s administration wants to support American jobs, especially in industries like auto manufacturing. They’re offering grants to help automakers transition to making electric vehicles.

Biden’s administration is also supporting unions in other ways. They recently made a rule that requires unionized workers on federal construction projects over $35 million, even though some contractors complained about it.

Some Southern states are passing laws that could take away economic incentives from companies if they recognize unions without a secret ballot vote. This affects many major auto plants in the South that received economic help from the states.

Federal law allows companies to recognize unions if most workers sign cards supporting the union. This is called “card check.” Some states, like Georgia and Tennessee, are passing laws to prevent this. Supporters say it’s fairer to have secret votes, but union supporters say these laws go against workers’ rights.

Su criticized companies that try to stop unions from forming, saying it’s “unacceptable.” She pointed out that many workers would join unions if given the chance.

Overall, Su said Biden is committed to supporting workers’ rights, including their right to join unions.

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