A father had a family of sons who were perpetually quarreling among themselves. One day, he told them to bring him a bundle of sticks. When they had done so, he placed the bundle into the hands of each of them in succession, and ordered his sons to break the bundle in pieces. They tried with all their strength, but were not able to do it.
He next opened the bundle, took the sticks separately, one by one, and again put them into his sons’ hands, upon which they broke the sticks easily. He then said, “My sons, if you are of one mind, and unite to assist each other, you will be as this bundle, uninjured by all the attempts of your enemies. But if you are divided among yourselves, you will be broken as easily as these sticks.
–“The Father, His Sons and the Bundle of Sticks”
Even though this story is 2500 years old, it still resonates. But sometimes “solidarity” is reduced to just a slogan on a shirt or a chant at a rally. It’s easy to forget that it is the very real basic engine that drives our union.
“I’ve never seen a union succeed and have a strong contract without solidarity,” said David B. Reynolds of University of Michigan’s Center for Labor and Community Studies. “The labor movement is about sticking together – that’s where the power comes from. If management sees that it is just a handful of leaders or activists, then they know they can wear them down. But if it is all of the workforce, that changes the dynamic completely and shifts power to the workers.”
A good example of this is the experience of workers at Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA). “Most folks know us as Freightliner,” said Corey Hill, president of Local 3520 in Cleveland, North Carolina. “I’ve been with Freightliner since 1992 – we organized in 2003 – so I have seen our plant with a union and without one.
“North Carolina is a right-to-work state and our membership has at times dipped dangerously low – to just above 50 percent. The boss knows it – they take care of dues deduction so they know who is and isn’t a union member. A lot of people don’t think about this, but what happens is that the company slowly starts to test the boundaries of the agreement. They know which workers won’t file a grievance so it’s easy to ask them to do things outside the agreement. Before you know it, a practice exists which undermines the contract.”
On top of the erosion of their contract, Freightliner workers also faced the unthinkable when their company built a plant in Mexico that produced the same Class 8 trucks they produce.
“Our greatest competition wasn’t another company,” Hill said. “It was another Freightliner plant.”
So the local came up with a plan. The first thing they did to try to stem the bleed and bring workers back was to negotiate a build rate with the company that guaranteed production at their Cleveland plant.
“That started to get workers back off layoff, but not nearly to where we were before,” Hill said.
But it was an opportunity – to re-engage with the returning workers to talk about membership.
“Many weren’t members before,” Hill said. “But being on layoff for two years and not being able to find work even close to what they were earning at Freightliner was a wakeup call for many. It was a simple conversation to talk about the value of our jobs coming from the work we were able to do as a union. Many joined the UAW after that.”
The next step was to build on their momentum.
“One thing to know is that when you buy one of these trucks, you can request where the truck is made on the form. We also knew that Freightliner was selling the trucks – whether made by us in North Carolina or in Mexico – for the same price. We took that message to the truck stops and started talking one-on-one with truckers as part of our ‘Buy American’ campaign because they are the consumer of what we make. It wasn’t about criticizing the trucks made in Mexico; but it was about reminding truckers that buying a truck made in the USA meant that more workers are employed here to buy the goods that they carry in their trucks.”
Bit by bit, orders for U.S.-made trucks started piling up, and workers started to get called back to Cleveland.
“We knew that the workers – who were not all members – were not going to get called back unless the work was here. So we took that on and we won.”
The campaign drew many new members not only into the union but also into activism. “People who were not involved before, people who were not even members before started to help out because they got it – the connection between their memberships, their participation and securing this work,” Hill said.
As the local built up its membership – and other Freightliner locals in the area did the same – they headed to the table for a major round of negotiations in 2014. That bargaining secured a “common agreement” where the five Freightliner locals plus DTNA’s Thomas Built Buses local fall under one master agreement.
“No doubt in my mind that we were only able to do that because of the strength of our membership. Management saw that we were strong because members supported their union.”
Moral of the story: We ARE stronger when we stand together.
Other users read these articles next...