Workers Rights Are Key to Our Movement
The most important election in the U. S. this year occurred on May 12 in Fort Valley, Georgia, where workers at the Blue Bird school bus company voted 697-435 in a National Labor Relations Board election to join the Steelworkers Union. (Badgers may disagree.)
At Third Act, we fight to save democracy and our planet; at the intersection of these two existential issues are workers and unions. We can’t have democracy unless workers have their own organized voice to counter the organized voice of employers, and we can’t save this planet unless workers are involved in that struggle.
That’s why the union election in Fort Valley is so important.
We can be proud that Third Act got the September 17 NYC Climate March coalition to include in its three demands that we must “provide a just transition to a sustainable clean energy economy that supports workers and community rights, job security, and employment equity.”
But using the words “just transition” isn’t enough. Creating millions of jobs in the new sustainable economy isn’t good enough. Even creating good jobs isn’t enough. We have to make sure workers get the chance to make them good union jobs.
That’s what happened in Fort Valley. Blue Bird, Peach county’s largest employer, didn’t engage in union busting, so workers actually had a fair election. Why? Because Blue Bird gets tens of millions of dollars in federal funds from both the infrastructure and Inflation Reduction Acts to build electric school buses. Those funds come with a requirement that the recipient “have committed to remain neutral in any organizing campaign ….” In other words, no union busting.
If workers can actually organize and grow unions in the new economy, they will both help to save democracy and support the climate justice movement.
So, as Third Actors this Labor Day, let’s honor “labor” by continuing to make workers’ rights to organize central to our fight to save democracy and the planet.
Bob Muehlenkamp has been on the front lines of our country’s social justice and trade union movements for a half century. He served as Executive Vice President and National Organizing Director at SEIU-1199, the hospital workers union, and as the Teamsters Union Organizing Director. Bob is a co-facilitator for Third Act’s Retired Union Members Working Group. On March 22, he was arrested in front of Chase Bank with 10 others as part of the Rocking Chair Rebellion against dirty banks.