Union drive: Pro-union Honda employees host fundraiser for injured coworkers
(The Anniston Star Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 13--LINCOLN -- The smell of barbecue wafted into the air Saturday as workers seeking to form a union at Honda's Lincoln plant gathered to raise money for something they said they believe is an important cause -- their injured coworkers.
A festive and friendly atmosphere was evident at the Honda Workers United headquarters on Alabama 77 as attendees, many of them pro-union workers, chatted, listened to music, offered car washes to passersby and sampled the barbecue cooked in huge smokers as children played in an inflatable moonwalk.
The day was about giving back to the community and showing those workers who have been injured that others care, attendees said.
Honda Workers United charity committee member Michael Verges said the fundraiser was a way to offer support, especially because he said injured workers often find themselves in a difficult position, and many remain out of work.
"The workers decided to do this because they care," Oten Wyatt Jr., the United Autoworkers representative working with the Honda employees, said of the fundraiser.
Wyatt said he thinks the organizing campaign is going well and that interest in the union is growing. While the ultimate goal is to hold a union election, he stressed he didn't want to put a timeframe on anything. Pro-union workers are laying the groundwork to bring workers together and to change people's misperceptions of unions, he said. "It's not going to be an overnight sensation," he said. "We have to build a structure."
Honda management has said a union is not necessary, that there is a philosophy of open communication at the company that a union would hamper, and that having a union could hurt the plant.
A union would "radically change our teamwork environment and the way we do business," said Honda Manufacturing of Alabama spokesman Mark Morrison in an e-mail to The Star in September 2007.
Wyatt said Saturday that a union is "not about hurting Honda," but about giving workers a voice, and ultimately making the company even more successful.
Unions have not met with much success in organizing the South's foreign automakers, and pro-union workers acknowledge they are up against a negative perception among some as to what a union even does. But they say they remain committed to continuing to lay the foundation for a successful union drive at the Lincoln plant.
Pro-union workers have been working to educate their coworkers about what they see as the advantages union representation can provide -- publishing newsletters and having conversations with them.
Verges said the efforts to organize the plant are "constantly gaining momentum."
Support is growing as people get to know the union better, especially in today's economic climate, said Honda worker Johnnie Johnson. Education and outreach are key, he said, and that is part of what the core group of supporters is trying to do now. "Educate people, then you can have a successful vote," he said.
While Johnson said he believed support has reached "a goodly amount," he said the goal is to build it even more.
And all interviewed Saturday said they weren't out to create an adversarial environment -- that they believed a union could work in partnership with the company to improve the working environment, while also looking out for the workers' interests.
Safety has been one of the key concerns cited by pro-union workers.
"I've had too many friends, coworkers hurt," said Matt Strickland. "I don't think that's right."
Verges said one of the key advantages of having union representation would be having a contract, a key protection for workers. Without a contract a company can "snatch away ... at any moment," benefits and employment, he said.
Workers in past interviews and at Saturday's event say safety, ergonomics, promotion policies, favoritism, respect and the desire to have a voice, as well as the protections offered by a contract and negotiations, are some of the issues they believe the UAW could help address.
By noon, Wyatt said, they had had "a lot of folks coming by," to the fundraiser. He said workers hope to continue to host charitable activities -- something he says UAW locals often do -- such as having more fundraisers for injured workers, or collecting donations for needy families around the holidays.
About Mary Jo Shafer
Mary Jo Shafer is assistant metro editor and business editor for The Star.
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