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November 2017

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A Win for Workers Everywhere

The workers at Electrolux's Memphis, Tenn., plant are on a roll.

In September they won the largest union election vote in the South in many years, turning back a tide of unwelcome news for manufacturing workers that goes back decades. And now we get the good news that the victory at the ballot box has turned into an agreement at the negotiating table.

In a place where no one gave these workers a chance of winning, and where they had lost once before, they have a legally enforceable collective bargaining agreement that will not only transform their lives but the lives of their families and the communities they call home. Stability at work and higher wages will help rebuild the tax bases of towns and cities and fill the coffers of charities and the cash registers of small businesses.

I want to recognize Electrolux management for starting down a road that could transform that factory into a model of partnership where cooperation, not confrontation, becomes the norm.

The contract in Memphis is a rebuke to the way business is done for too long and in too many parts of the U.S. The endless hunt for negligible taxes, lowest worker salaries and minimal safety standards has been disastrous, whether its result is outsourcing jobs overseas or insourcing jobs from states that protect their workers to those that don't.

Unfortunately, these low-road companies have found willing partners in states and, at times, federal administrations who have fought against efforts by employees who want the freedom to come together at work.

It isn't sustainable and anything that is unsustainable eventually must come to an end.

These are tough times for unions — and the U.S. Supreme Court, the president and Congress all seem to be trying to make it harder.

But if the contract in Memphis demonstrates anything, it shows that working people can win in hard places. It took organizers from every branch, and real courage from our newest members, but we proved that this Brotherhood can win anywhere, in any industry, no matter how big the unit.

And we're not sitting back. We're thinking bigger. At the end of September, the 3,000 workers at Electrolux's Springfield, Tenn., plant officially began an organizing drive of their own.

The volunteer organizers have a very compelling message for their brothers and sisters on the factory floor. It isn't a promise or a dream. It's a contract signed by their bosses just over 200 miles away.

Two years ago, it was an impossible win. But we know the labor movement has been making the impossible possible for more than 125 years.


Also: Stephenson: A Tale of Two Companies Read Stephenson's Column

Kenneth W. Cooper

Kenneth W. Cooper
International Secretary-Treasurer