Improving the Lives of Tennessee Workers Should Include Unions

  • Rickey Wallace is the Southern Territory General Vice President of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

As a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) which has worked under collective agreement for almost 40 years, I know firsthand the value and importance of being member of a union.

I have lived in Tennessee most of my life. I know the importance of work in this great state.

In 1976, shortly after I turned 18, I moved to the Trane Company in Clarksville, where I held positions such as assembler, CNC operator, insulator and welder for almost 20 years.

This commercial heating and air manufacturer made a name for itself in the region because of its good salary and benefits, all earned through collective bargaining when the IAM organized the installation in 1962.

These jobs have enabled thousands of hard workers from the surrounding rural areas to enter America’s middle class. Today we still have over 1,000 IAM members at the factory.

The IAM, through the power of collective bargaining, has given me the opportunity to have a voice in the workplace – by deciding on an employment contract that deals with wages, benefits and protections at work .

The Clarksville campus is located on 110 acres and is comprised of two buildings totaling approximately 1.24 million square feet.  The operations include two manufacturing groups and are home to more than 1,500 employees in product engineering, product development, production, quality, finance, ordering, customer service and marketing.

More Tennesséens should be able to join unions

This Labor Day is a great opportunity to highlight the importance of organized work in places like Trane, and the potential to expand the possibilities for more workers to join a union here in Tennessee.

Organized work has benefited us all, some in ways not even achieved. It was the unions that helped make some of the workplace improvements we have today, including the 40 hour work week, workers’ compensation laws and paid time off.

Supporters and opponents of the U.S. Supreme Court justices' ruling on a controversial labor rights case gather in court in June 2018.

There is more that can be done to improve the lives of working Americans, especially here in Tennessee.

Tennessee ranks sixth in the United States in terms of lowest union density, with just 4.4% of the total workforce.

This is not good, especially with recent data from the Economic Policy Institute concluding how low union membership rates correspond to economic inequality.

Everyone can agree that we need to expand the American middle class.

Unions helped create the middle class. Strengthening the means by which workers can join such organizations will truly benefit American workers and their families in Tennessee.

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A good start is to update federal labor laws by removing barriers that prevent workers from freely deciding whether they want to join a union.

By participating in organizing campaigns across the country, mainly in the South, I have seen how far companies can go to maintain full control over their workforce.

This is unacceptable. American workers deserve better.

The law on the protection of trade union rights

IAM is one of many unions and allies fighting for the adoption of the Protection of the Right to Organize Act (PRO).

This legislation would update federal labor laws to strengthen workers’ rights to collective bargaining by facilitating union membership.

A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that nearly 50% of non-union Americans would vote to join a union today if given the opportunity.

The PRO Act will also do away with Jim Crow-era anti-worker “right to work” laws, helping to raise wages and make our workplaces safer.

Workers in southern states like Tennessee have for too long been under downward pressure on wages due to so-called “right to work” laws. These anti-worker laws have more than 70 years of experience in lowering wages, cutting benefits and making workplaces more dangerous.

On average, workers in states with right to work laws earn almost $ 9,000 less per year than workers in states without them.

Right-to-work states are more dangerous to work and workers there are more likely to die on the job. The workplace fatality rate is 37% higher in states with right to work laws.

No one should lose their life trying to provide for their family.

Improving the lives of Tennessee workers should include unions. This Labor Day is a good time to join the movement.

Rickey Wallace is the Southern Territory General Vice President of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), a union that represents more than 600,000 workers in North American industries such as manufacturing, aerospace, defense, airlines and other industries including the Tennessee Valley Authority. Originally from Tennessee, Wallace has held a number of positions within the union, including serving as the former chairman of the Tennessee State Machinists Council.

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