A Union For Everyone
Winston-Salem, N.C. — The UNITED TOBACCO ALLIANCE for a Voice and Freedom (UTA) is a partnership between the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). This partnership was formed after workers at Reynolds American Tobacco requested the participation of both International unions to form a union at two tobacco plants in Winston-Salem, N.C.
At the request of the majority of workers employed at Reynolds American Tobacco Company, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) conducted a secret ballot election on May 11. The preliminary vote stands at 862 for union representation, 1,228 against union representation, 23 challenged ballots and two void ballots.
In the weeks leading up to the union election, Reynolds launched a vicious anti-union campaign designed to intimidate employees into voting against union representation. Reynolds’ well-funded, coercive drive to instill fear in workers included threats to shut down the plants and move production overseas, to take away current benefits, captive audience meetings and streaming daily anti-union videos in the workers lunchroom.
“The company’s high priced campaign of half truths, innuendos and veiled threats coerced a majority of Reynolds’s workers into voting no,” notes John Price, a BCTGM International Representative and UTA Organizer. “Clearly, workers could not vote freely or fairly.”
Due to the egregious behavior of the company and a large number of violations of worker rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges have been filed against Reynolds. In addition, the UTA intends to file additional ULPs as well as objections to the conduct of the election with the NLRB.
Reynolds workers were supported in their organizing efforts by food and tobacco unions from all over the world. Reynolds’ controlling shareholder, British American Tobacco, based in London, negotiates with unions in most of its production facilities around the globe. Workers in those facilities and elsewhere were shocked that BAT, responsible under global labor standards for its affiliate, stood by while management at Reynolds threatened to move production from the United States to third world countries and committed other violations of the law.
The International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), the Geneva Switzerland-based global union federation for workers in the food, tobacco, and related industries, provided information to these and other unions and mobilized letters to BAT protesting the gross violations of worker rights by its affiliate Reynolds. Those messages of protest to BAT in London and support for Reynolds workers poured in from unions in the European Union, Russia, Japan, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. The International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU) representing union central bodies around the globe also sent a letter of support.
The IUF also filed complaints against BAT and its affiliate Reynolds with the national offices in the United Kingdom and U.S. responsible for monitoring compliance with guidelines for behavior of multinational enterprises agreed to by governments in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It is a violation of those guideline to threaten to move production as retaliation for union activity as Reynolds did in its literature and captive audience meetings.
“The UTA would normally respect the wishes of the majority of the workers and the results of this union election,” says Price. “But workers were not allowed to vote freely without coercion and intimidation and based on the overwhelming number of complaints coming directly from Reynolds workers about the company’s behavior, we do not believe this was a fair election,” Price concludes.