CONTRIBUTED BY LEE COUNTY NAACP
In 1931, Florence Reece wrote a song in Harlan County, Kentucky, while organizing with her husband and the United Mine Workers entitled “Which Side are You On?” Since that time, various musicians and workers have continued to ask this question. This week in Lee County, it was made clear that our elected officials are not on the side of workers. Auburn Mayor Ron Anders and Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller wrote a letter to the editor in support of General Electric and opposed to the individuals who work there. To use their term, this should be “distressing” for all workers.
Shortly after Anders’ and Fuller’s letter made it to print, we reached out to the workers organizing at GE to bring it to their attention. The first response back was “they (Anders and Fuller) do not have our best interest in mind.” This was already true of the company they worked for but it’s even more concerning when the individuals who are elected to represent them engage in the same anti-union rhetoric and union busting efforts.
It is easy for the Lee County NAACP to stand with the workers unionizing at the GE plant in Auburn because workers’ rights are civil rights. Examples include The March on Washington (1963), which full name was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In addition, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while supporting 1,300 black sanitation workers on strike in Memphis. Unfortunately, the struggles for workers rights and civil rights continue today in Lee County.
To learn more about this struggle at the GE plant, look no further than what the workers themselves have had to say. In doing so, you will learn that GE has removed a list of titles and opted for a common title of “manufacturing associate” — this change in work title has resulted in lower pay in a devaluation of the skills and experience that many of the workers have. Every worker is feeling the tightening of finances as a result of rising inflation but when workers at the GE plant asked for better pay and benefits, as well as the recognition of their union, the workers were met with anti-union videos in an attempt to break up the union they have built. Perhaps the worst story coming out of the GE plant in Auburn is that they recently fired one of the workers who is organizing their colleagues despite having a high-risk pregnancy; prior to her termination, she was expected to continue to lift over 60 pounds despite GE knowing that her pregnancy was high-risk. You can read these stories and others by visiting www.geworkers.org.
We at the Lee County NAACP cannot support the actions of GE and are disappointed that Anders and Fuller apparently can.
It’s also important to note that the letter from Anders and Fuller comes at the 11th hour of the workers campaign to have their union recognized by GE as they are slated to begin voting on Oct. 27. We at the Lee County NAACP stand with the workers at GE and are looking forward to celebrating alongside of them when they win their union recognition and can bargain a fair contract to improve their pay, benefits and working conditions. We also recognize the right of all workers to organize a union and call on Anders and Fuller to do the same.
Lee County NAACP Branch #5038
In a recent letter to the editor referencing employees of GE Aviation forming a union, the mayors of Auburn and Opelika came out against the working people of our community.
There is a number of reasons union membership has been declining, but it certainly isn’t the fantasy one they mentioned. In fact, the majority of adults see the decline of union membership as bad for the U.S. and working folks in general. (Reference Pew and Gallup polls)
We all can agree that higher wages are not just better for the wage earner, their families, but also for the community. In a BLS report released this year the median wage difference, union vs. non, for all wage and salary workers is about $200 a week, $1,169 vs. $975. The non Union worker on average made 17% less. In fact, workers in RTW states make 15.2% less annually.
There are safety factors also, increased rates of accidents and fatalities in non-union, RTW states vs. union, non-RTW states. Workplace deaths are 37% higher in RTW states according to a BLS report.
It is no coincidence the middle class grew when union membership was higher.
If the two mayors really wanted to support the people of the community they would support the workers as they unionize. Perhaps we should ask them who they support more, the corporate citizens or the living, breathing working local tax-paying citizens?
John W Cochran