IAM Helping Southern Workers Rise Up

IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger said on his monthly call to America’s Workforce Radio (AWF) that he sees a “wave of organizing” beginning in the southern United States.

For the IAM, you could say that wave has already begun – three successful organizing drives in Texas and Georgia have added nearly 1,100 members since April.

Helicopter mechanics and technicians and office and clerical personnel at L3 Corporation in Corpus Christi, TX voted in two separate elections to join the IAM in April and June, respectively. In July, aircraft techs at L3 Vortex in Savannah, GA also voted for IAM representation.

“When they say you can’t organize in the South, we keep proving that axiom wrong almost on a weekly basis,” Buffenbarger told AWF host Ed “Flash” Ferenc.

The IAM, which was founded in Atlanta in 1888, already represents tens of thousands of members in the South at companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing Missile and Space, United Launch Alliance, UPS and more. But organizing isn’t easy in the South, where only about 7 percent of workers carry a union card – by far the lowest of any region in the country. Other than Kentucky, every state in the IAM’s Southern Territory is “right to work.”

“People understand they do have a right to work,” said Buffenbarger, “and they have the right to work for a decent wage and that’s why they’re joining unions.”

Conservative pundits rejoiced in February when workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, TN, amidst heavy pressure from Republican politicians, narrowly rejected joining the United Auto Workers (UAW). The UAW has since chartered a local union in Chattanooga to represent workers at the plant.

“It’s funny how all of this is going to unfold,” said Buffenbarger. “The efforts by Sen. Corker and the governor of Tennessee to slam labor may turn around and backfire on them and ignite a wave of organizing. That’s what I see coming.”

Southern workers, like anyone else, are merely looking for dignity and respect on the job, said Buffenbarger. But the need for unions is especially dire in the South – only Florida has a minimum wage higher than the federal floor of $7.25 an hour, all but three states have rejected Medicaid expansion that would cover millions of low-income people, and the poverty rate is higher than the national average in every southern state other than Virginia.

In 2013, workers who were members of unions earned $200 more a week than non-union workers, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“People are looking for dignity, respect and a decent way of life,” said Buffenbarger. “That will always be the fundamental instrument that drives a union and unionization forward. Management doesn’t give it; you have to bargain for it. And you can only do that with a strong union.”

Click here to listen to Buffenbarger’s full interview, which also includes segments on the stalemate in Congress, the Highway Trust Fund and “Machinist Joe.”

To find out how you can earn respect on the job by joining the IAM, click here.