UE 150 members celebrate the Charlotte dues deduction win. (Photo by UE 150.)
UE 150 members celebrate the Charlotte dues deduction win. (Photo by UE 150.)

Amid North Carolina anti-labor campaign, public workers score union win

UE 150 members celebrate the Charlotte dues deduction win. (Photo by UE 150.)
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North Carolina is already the least-unionized state in the nation, with a union membership rate of only 2.9 percent and a ban on collective bargaining by public employees. And if the new Republican governor and legislative super-majorities get their way, the state could soon become even more hostile to organized labor.

But despite the anti-labor assault underway in North Carolina, public workers' unions scored a key win this week in the state's biggest city.

On Monday, Charlotte City Council voted 6-5 to allow city employees to have union dues voluntarily deducted from their paychecks. Automatic dues collection is important to unions' success since it provides a reliable source of funds.

Six of the council's Democrats voted in favor of the program, while three Democrats and two Republicans voted against it. To participate, a union must pay the city a $1,000 annual fee to cover administrative costs, and there's no minimum number of members needed.

After the vote, members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Local (UE) 150, the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, gathered outside Charlotte council chambers to celebrate the organizing victory. The group has been campaigning for the policy for months.

"It shows they recognize the union, and the union's here," says James "Al" Locklear, a sanitation worker and president of the UE 150's Charlotte City Workers chapter. "The next step is to get people signed up and fight for better pay and treatment."

UE 150 currently has a recruitment drive underway in Charlotte. It is especially focused on organizing the city's sanitation workers, who face low pay, difficult conditions, and high turnover.

UE 150 already has paycheck dues deduction in the North Carolina cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, along with police and firefighters unions. Winston-Salem allows automatic deductions for members of police and firefighters unions, while Durham County allows them for members of the N.C. Sheriff Police Alliance, according to a recent city report prepared for Charlotte council.

Headquartered in Pittsburgh and representing both public and private-sector workers, the UE is one of the most democratic and politically progressive U.S. unions, with its rank-and-file control expressed in the slogan, "The members run this union." The more than 140 UE locals around the country are autonomous, and the salary of the union's top three elected officials is limited by the UE constitution to the top wage paid in the industry, currently about $51,000.

In North Carolina, UE 150 is one of the coalition partners behind the annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street march convened by the state NAACP and named after the street where the General Assembly meets. The coalition promotes a 14-point legislative agenda for social and economic justice, including collective bargaining for public employees.

UE 150 called for automatic dues deduction as part of a Worker's Bill of Rights it presented to Charlotte city officials last year. It held demonstrations in favor of dues deduction at city hall and lobbied for the cause during the 2012 Democratic National Convention held in Charlotte.

The Democrats' decision to hold their convention in the city proved controversial because of the state's low unionization rate and anti-union laws. North Carolina is among the so-called "right to work" states that make it illegal to require a new employee in a unionized shop to become a union member, thus weakening labor's ability to organize a workplace.

Even though the state already has a staunchly anti-union environment, its Republican leaders want to take further action to discourage organized labor. In a speech delivered last week to open the new legislative session, N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Cornelius) told his body's GOP super-majority that North Carolina "will continue to be the least unionized state in the United States."

Tillis has called for enshrining right-to-work in the state constitution, as have Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) and Gov. Pat McCrory. The Senate also has a Republican super-majority.

Including a right-to-work amendment in North Carolina's constitution is a goal of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a conservative tea party group that was founded with support from David and Charles Koch of the Koch Industries oil and chemical conglomerate. The group made the announcement following last year's passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan.

McCrory has close ties to AFP, having spent a year touring the state with the group to boost his conservative credentials after losing his bid for governor in 2008. He appointed as his state budget director discount retail baron Art Pope, a former national AFP director and a major financier of conservative advocacy groups that promote anti-union policies. Pope's family foundation is the second-largest funder of the AFP Foundation after the Kochs, and Pope and AFP both spent generously to help elect McCrory.

Weakening unions is also on the agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an influential organization that brings together corporations and legislators to promote model state legislation advancing business-friendly policies. Michigan's right-to-work legislation contained the same language as an ALEC model bill.

Many North Carolina lawmakers have ties to ALEC, and McCrory recently chose as his chief lobbyist former state Rep. Fred Steen (R), who served as ALEC's North Carolina chair and is on ALEC's board of directors.

"They're trying to bust the unions up," Locklear observes. "They can treat people every kind of way when they don't have a union."

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Right to Work is the Only Way in NC

Right to work allows for more businesses to grow in NC, therefore creating more jobs, therefore providing for the future of many NC residents. Unions cost businesses more money, makes workers lazy and provides poor overall customer service. Case in point, Piedmont Natural Gas employs union workers in Mecklenburg County and non-union workers in Union County(pun not intended). In Mecklenburg, the union workers connecting service will come within 4 hours in the morning or 4 hours in the afternoon. I left my phone number to be contacted when they were to come. I was called by the tech that had a blocked caller ID and left a message with no return to call back. I had to leave for quick emergency and when came back, tech was gone. The second scheduled connection, I asked to be called 30 minutes before coming. The tech called with no caller ID again, left a message that he would be there in 30 minutes and left no call back number. This was at 5pm during rush hour and yes I missed him again. Finally after the third attempt, I waited most of the day and was there when he arrived. He said mine was his last stop before going home. He doesn't work past a certain time.

Union County Piedmont Gas has non-union techs. I called for connection at a home in Union County. Was told I would be called by the tech for connection. The tech called with an actual number showing. I asked if he could meet at 5pm, no problem he said. At 5pm the tech arrived, turned service on, checked all gas appliances and did not rush as it was past the union workers specific work time. Was very thorough and completed the connection service on the first time scheduled.

We all lose when unions are involved, period.

Why is it that in this so

Why is it that in this so called progressive and civilized country, there are still people trying to take away basic human rights? It seems to me that this "right to work" nonsense is an attempt to "enslave" workers by not allowing them to work collectively to better their lives. The sad thing is that there are people that actually have been convinced that this is a good thing. We are enraged that other countries treat their citizens poorly but we are attempting to do the same. I for one am proud to belong to that wonderful progressive union called UE that recognizes the need to treat people decently and fairly.

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