Recognizing a union success story
Three years after Freightliner, a division of Daimler Trucks North America, announced it would eliminate 2,200 jobs at its three North Carolina plants and ship production to Mexico, there has been a remarkable turn around. Today, thousands of workers are back on the job in Gastonia, Cleveland, and Mount Holly, NC thanks in large part to the protections of their union contracts.
On Wednesday, President Obama traveled to the Freightliner plant in Mount Holly to tout what his administration is doing to improve domestic energy production, boost energy efficiency, and develop alternative energy.
The President bragged about North Carolina workers and the new trucks they are building in our state, trucks that can run on cleaner-burning natural gas, hybrid trucks, and trucks that use less oil. “Now, here at Daimler, you’re not just building trucks. You’re building better trucks,” said the President.
“And I just had a chance to see some of the folks who are doing the work here today. I couldn’t be more impressed. Some people have been here — like Juan — 32 years, 25 years. Some folks have been here for four months, or six months, have just gotten hired. But everybody had such pride in their work.”
The union difference
A few years ago, heavy truck and parts manufacturing was on the ropes in North Carolina. Business started to nosedive in 2008, and Freightliner began shipping jobs to its Mexican plant. Fortunately, negotiators for the union had the foresight in 2003 to win language that required the company to build 70 percent of its trucks in Mount Holly with a similar provision in Cleveland.
To stop the outsourcing of thousands of good-paying, middle class jobs, the union sprung into action, filing a grievance against the company for violating its contracts and embarking on a massive public campaign to pressure companies like Duke Energy to demand its trucks be built in North Carolina.
In January 2010, an arbitrator ruled for the union and demanded Freightliner return production to the Carolinas and pay back-pay for the affected employees. Today, every laid off worker has been recalled – some of them had been laid off for three years – and the company is having to hire new workers to keep up with demand. The plant in Gastonia, which builds parts for Freightliner, has gone from producing barely 20,000 parts a year to tens of thousands of parts every day.
At the same time, UAW has been fighting to keep hundreds of workers at Freightliner’s Thomas Built Buses facility in High Point on the job.
When UAW learned that technical specifications for which companies could bid to produce buses for North Carolina schools basically shut the High Point company out of consideration, the union sprung into action. Being organized made the effort to contact school officials possible, and the union’s political activity in 2008 meant they had someone in the Governor’s mansion willing to listen.
When the bus maker was allowed to bid, it won the contract to build buses for North Carolina schools, right here in North Carolina.
“More than any other stakeholder, union workers care about maintaining employment within our communities,” says UAW President, Bob King.
There’s an excellent write up about the Freightliner story in the March-April 2012 issue of Solidarity, the UAW magazine. Click here to read the latest issue, “In it for the long haul: Freightliner workers’ persistence pays off for all”.