Jones could play a tremendous role in engaging political and community leaders to get behind efforts to organize the state’s growing auto industry
Union organisers are hoping that the surprise election of Democrat Doug Jones to a Senate seat in Alabama this week could be a big win for organized labor in a state that has long fought to curtail their power.
As big auto factories have set up shop in southern states Republican politicians have worked hard to defeat the unions, particularly the United Auto Workers which has lost a number of key battles to anti-union forces. Jones is pledging to do something different: use his Senate office to actually help workers organise.
On the stump in Alabama, Jones bragged of growing up in a union family as the grandson of unionized steelworkers both employed by US Steel in Birmingham. Jones himself worked a summer job as a member of the steelworkers at US Steel Fairfield Works in order to pay his way through college.
“Doug is one of those unique guys that comes from a working-class background made good by going to law school,” said Daniel Flippo, the steelworkers director for Alabama.
After law school, Jones worked as a lawyer at the firm of Whatley Drake, where he represented unions.
“The steelworkers run deep in his family,” said Flippo. “To have a senator from the state of Alabama that has those roots means a lot. You don’t see that often and that is why we worked so hard on this campaign.”
Jones has already told labor leaders that he is going to hire a full time labor liaison to coordinate his efforts on behalf of Alabama’s labor movement. Jones’s office could play a tremendous role in engaging political and community leaders to get behind efforts to organize the state’s growing auto industry.
Once a stronghold of organized labor, Alabama traditionally boasted a unionization rate that was twice that of its southern neighbors and on par even with some states in the North.
With wall-to-wall unionization at the Tennessee Valley Authority, Goodyear, United Steel, and in the coal mines of Northern Alabama, many there still have fond memories of organized labor and hail from union families like Jones.
In 1993, Alabama’s union membership peaked at 14.7%. However, in recent years, Alabama’s unionization rate has dipped to a mere 8.1% of the state’s population belonging to a union.
As the state’s Senator, Jones has pledged to organized labor to use his office and platform to help workers seeking to organize in the state’s growing auto industry.
Already, Jones’s victory has created a renewed sense of what’s possible among those engaged in the uphill struggle to organize a 6,000-person Mercedes plant in Tuscaloosa County, where Jones won by 57%.
“We’re happy about it,” said Mercedes worker Kirk Garner, who has been involved in efforts to organize the plant since 1997. “That’s one more tool that we will have and I think it will help a lot with Doug having a union background.”
Many of Garner’s co-workers worked to elect Jones to the Senate and the confidence in their ability to win in tough fights could help give new energy to the UAW’s drive at the plant, which has been gaining ground in recent months.
Currently, the Mercedes Alabama plant is the only non-union plant owned worldwide by Daimler AG, Mercedes’ parent company.
The company claims that it would remain neutral in its attempt to organize the plant. However, the UAW has long contended that Mercedes has illegally retaliated against workers and filled multiple National Labor Relations Board complaints to protest the firings of pro-union workers.
In 2014, the National Labor Relations Board found that Mercedes illegally restricted the ability of workers to distribute pro-union literature.
Workers at the plant say that in order for workers succeed in unionizing, pressure will have to be applied to Mercedes to remain totally neutral.
Now with an ally in Jones, workers at the plant say they feel more optimistic that they can bring to bear the type of pressure needed to organize the plant.
“It’s gonna require a lot of pressure,” said Garner.
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