In November of last year I wrote Unions Push South as the Supreme Court Rules on Organizing Tactics were I described a stated effort on the part of unions to try to organize workers in the Southeast, particularly focused on Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and the Carolinas. The UAW and the SEIU have made a “southern strategy” a major part of their organizational efforts. Unfortunately for the UAW the effort fell flat.
The UAW attempted to organize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Even though the company management did not resist this effort, in fact they encouraged it; the employees rejected the UAW 712 to 626 with 89% participation in the vote. A Washington Post article described this as a “stinging loss.” This loss has taken the wind out of the sails of the UAW’s ‘southern strategy’. They hope it does not hamper their efforts at another southern automobile plant, BMW in Alabama where there is another campaign going on in an environment where there is no management resistance.
The SEIU (Service Employees International Union) has taken a different tactic to trying to organize in the south than has the UAW. Rather than trying to organize large groups of thousands or hundreds of employees they are going after smaller groups. They have been successful in organizing staff at the Atlanta Medical Center, the South Fulton Medical Center and cafeteria workers at Clark Atlanta University and Agnes Scott College according to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution by Michael E. Kanell.
The Teamsters are also focusing on smaller groups. Even though they have 7000 or so workers organized at UPS and they were able to organize 400 Dekalb County sanitation workers, they have also 25 drivers at another company and 30 drivers at O’Reilly Auto Parts south of Atlanta. They are picking their battles and in the Atlanta area are getting some traction.
Still an uphill battle
There are a lot of reasons that unions are not going to be as successful in the Southeast as they would like to be. All Southern states are right-to-work states. There seems to be a distrust of the value of unions perhaps reflecting an “independent streak” that is inherent in the south. Changes in population, changes in economic situations, and changes in management practices all contribute whether a company is going to be a potential target.
What makes a company a target
There are a number of factors that contribute to whether a company may stand out as a target for union activity. These include:
- Your management practices. If you treat your employees as a disposable resource rather than people then you may be in trouble. Do you pay poorly? Have high turnover? Have a high level of complaints? High level of accidents? If you answer “yes” to any of these then you are at a higher risk. After all improving these kinds of situations is a union’s bread and butter.
- Your industry. Hot industries for organization include the medical field, even including doctors, but especially lower level medical staff. Hospitality companies, hotels, motels, etc. are the sweet spot for the SEIU. They have just about every hotel in Vegas organized, so they have a lot of experience. Certainly anywhere you have a group of drivers you might be a Teamsters target. Have a delivery fleet? Be aware.
- Your employees. In their drive in the Southeast, certainly the Atlanta area, unions seem to target companies or communities that have a higher percent of minority members. Unions play on political division as well and probably don’t target Republican strongholds.
The biggest factor of these three things is the management practices of the company. In my opinion if you get a union today you have done something to deserve it. You have been a mean, stingy, unlikeable jerk and you are getting what you deserve. So go look in the mirror and make a hard assessment. If I just described you then you had better be prepared.