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At the bargaining table, we’re equals with management

If you work at Commercial Vehicle Group, Inc. (CVG) manufacturing in Piedmont, Alabama, you know how oppressive the heat is in the summer. You know how hard it is to do physical labor in a poorly ventilated, non-air conditioned building, trapped in sweltering heat where large ovens bake paint onto seating parts. You know what managers will say, again, when you tell them their attempts to cool down the facility aren’t enough: Eat a Popsicle and wear a cooling neck wrap.

david bradley cvg
David Bradley and his co-workers have seen few wage increases over their many years at CVG. The new bargaining committee hopes to do something about that.

CVG provides seats for heavy truck manufacturers, including Freightliner and Navistar. They also produce aftermarket truck seats for rig owners and operators. Wages at CVG are typical for Alabama, where it’s been reported that 1 in 4 manufacturing jobs pay less than $23,000 a year. That’s below the federal poverty level for a family of four. Many workers there are temps and have no job security.

The company recorded a $7.6 million profit in 2014. But there’s hope for positive change after workers voted 89 to 45 in September to join the UAW and are now negotiating their first contract.

“We want what we had taken away from us,” said 45-year-old CVG bargaining committee member and 13-year quality inspector David Bradley. The committee wants a first contract that focuses on fair treatment of workers, particularly economic gains. “We’ve had paid personal days taken away, vacation time taken away. I want to see our health insurance rates lowered. And we deserve higher wages, because I’ve seen few raises in my 13 years,” he said.

Bradley and his co-workers aren’t alone. The UAW has other big organizing wins, most recently with instructors at Barnard College and slot workers at Paris Las Vegas Casino moving toward their first contract with management. Like their CVG counterparts, they’re excited to finally have a voice with their employers.

Michael Boudell is a 20-year slot floor attendant at Paris Las Vegas Casino. He and his fellow attendants voted this fall to join UAW Local 3555, which represents over 500 casino workers on The Strip, including dealers at the Flamingo and The Linq casinos. They hope to have their first contract by January.

It’s a great feeling being at the table negotiating with my co-workers as equals with management.

“It’s a great feeling being at the table negotiating with my co-workers as equals with management,” said Boudell. “My goals for our first contract are about fairness about seniority issues like shift bidding and layoffs, and an end to favoritism by management. We’re negotiating our first contract for a respected voice with the corporation. We’re empowered by that equality since they have to listen to us and our concerns now,” he said.

Sonam Singh says contingent faculty have been treated as dispensable at Barnard College. The bargaining committee hopes to fix decades of stagnant pay and substandard benefits.
Sonam Singh says contingent faculty have been treated as dispensable at Barnard College. The bargaining committee hopes to fix decades of stagnant pay and substandard benefits.

On the other side of the country, at Barnard College in New York City, contingent faculty who recently won their National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) election also are negotiating their first contract. At Harvard University in Massachusetts, graduate employees also have started a card-signing campaign to win recognition of Harvard Graduate Employees- UAW (HGSU-UAW) as their union.

In September and October, Barnard College English Department adjunct lecturer Sonam Singh and 114 of his fellow instructors at the women’s college voted 91 percent in favor of Barnard Contingent Faculty-UAW (BCF-UAW) which will become a unit of UAW Local 2110 in October. “Contingent faculty have long been treated as dispensable,” said Singh. Now that they’re sitting at the table as equals with management negotiating their first contract, “There are so many economic justice goals we hope to achieve — the two most important being rectifying decades of stagnant poverty pay and lack of benefits. We deserve a seat at the table.”

Graduate employees at Harvard face similar challenges and hope to be negotiating their first contract with the university soon, too. They join with graduate employees at Columbia University and The New School, who both have petitions before the NLRB to restore collective bargaining rights. At Harvard, union card signing is well underway across the entire Harvard campus.

With first contracts on the horizon, CVG’s Bradley says new UAW members can finally negotiate for what every worker wants: fairness. “I think (the company) didn’t want to treat folks with respect. Now, they’ll have to.”


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