After gaining the best contract in decades for auto workers from the US Big Three a few months ago, UAW President Sean Fain announced that the union would be begin an organizing drive among the non-union auto plants in the country.

A second early result this month came in the form of an announcement by the union that more than 30% of the workers at the Mercedes-Benz plant outside Tuscaloosa, Alabama, have signed UAW authorization cards to be represented by the union in collective bargaining. The Tuscaloosa workers join workers at the Volkswagen facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in reaching the 30% goal, the first step in their union organizing efforts. If 50% sign up, the union will publicly rally and at 70% the UAW will demand recognition or call on the National Labor Relations Board to organize a vote.




Most national unions elect their presidents at their conventions held every few years. They are chosen by the delegates the locals send to the conventions. This indirect election of its top leaders has produced an undemocratic structure in most unions in which the leadership has only a remote connection to he rank-and-file members.

But developments in two unions may serve to be a harbinger of things to come. In both the Teamsters  and Auto Workers unions, the government intervened after a lengthy legal process and compelled an election by direct mail ballot of the entire membership. In the case of the UAW, the old guard leadership was sent to jail for corruption.

The result was leadership closer to workers directly on the production line. UAW President Sean Fain went around the country, holding meetings and sounding out workers on what they wanted in their new contracts. The process produced the best contracts for workers in decades.  The Teamsters contract with UPS, signed this past summer, made great gains for UPS drivers without a strike. UAW workers in factories of the Big Three US automakers are enjoying a contract not seen since the early organizing days of the union.

A valuable lesson that greater union democracy often brings greater gains for workers.

Labor Notes, 1/5



Almost 5,500 workers in the U.S. died from on-the-job injuries in 2022, the highest number in the past 10 years, according to a report released Dec. 19 by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More than 70% of the victims worked in blue-collar jobs such as construction, driving trucks, and maintenance, and more than 90% were men.”These deaths could be prevented,” said Jessica E. Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health “if employers listen to workers and adopt preventive and comprehensive safety measures.”

“Transportation incidents” accounted for more than 2,000 fatalities, about two-thirds of them in vehicle crashes. Falls, most commonly to a lower level of a structure, accounted for 865 deaths, and 839 came from exposure to poisons, electricity, or extreme heat. Older workers were most vulnerable, with 35% of those killed 55 or older.

Work Bites, 12/20