The Electrical Worker online

November 2017

Following First Contract, IBEW Sets Sights on Springfield Electrolux Plant
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Less than a year after one of the labor movement's largest organizing victories in the South, the workers at the Memphis, Tenn., Electrolux plant overwhelmingly voted to accept a first contract.

The acceptance of the contract means Memphis Local 474 will add 710 new members.

"It's a huge victory," said Business Manager Paul Shaffer. "It's great for our new members who've had zero voice on any issues on the job and it is great for workers in the South because it means this is possible for them too."

Less than two weeks after the Sept. 16 approval, IBEW organizers began handbilling and collecting signatures at Electrolux's Springfield, Tenn., plant which has more than 3,000 workers.

The three-year contract was negotiated by Electrolux workers Stanley Reese, Jocko Williams, Victor Jones, Jaquita Ledlow and Marvin Grant as well as Manufacturing Department Director Randy Middleton, Shaffer and Local 474 Assistant Business Manager Kenneth Ingram.

"I give a lot of credit to the negotiating committee," Middleton said. "None of them had been part of a negotiation before. Only one had been a member of a union. But from the very beginning, with the company and with their co-workers, they presented themselves very professionally and earned the respect and credibility to get a deal."

The southwest Memphis plant makes high-end commercial and residential stoves and ranges that cost from $2,000 to more than $10,000 for the Swedish company. The Electrolux workers voted to join in union in September 2016, after a two-year, two-vote organizing drive involving dozens of Electrolux workers, IBEW organizers from across the country and union activists from Sweden to ensure victory.

The 2015 organizing drive failed by 59 votes but the company was penalized multiple times for violating labor laws and the volunteer organizing committee never stopped working.

They found a new supporter in IF Metall, the union that represents Electrolux workers in Sweden. The leadership of IF Metall demanded the company honor the global neutrality agreement it had signed with the union and that local management cease interfering with the organizing drive. IF Metall's leadership also recorded a video supporting the organizing drive that was distributed by the IBEW before the vote.

"I credit IF Metall a lot. They put pressure on the parent company and kept their finger on the pulse of these negotiations," said Tenth District International Vice President Brent E. Hall.

Contentious elections often lead to difficult first contract negotiations. If a union loses an organizing election, it can very often turn around and hold another. It took two elections at Electrolux, and five at BGE, the Baltimore utility organized this year.

But if a union vote is successful and the company resists signing a contract, it can kill future organizing attempts.

"If they beat you at election, it is a loss. If you win and they stall you on a contract, you can't ever get out from under that. So, I give Electrolux credit for seeing that we have our members' best interests and the company's best interests in mind," Hall said. "We want to be partners and they saw that."

Shaffer, Hall and Middleton all said that the contract will not only transform the lives of the workers inside the plant, it has the potential to affect many more lives outside the factory walls.

First, for workers at other factories considering organizing, a signed contract is far more convincing than any election victory.

"Once word gets out that we got a deal, I expect to hear from people at other locations," Shaffer said. "And soon."

They also believe that there is a message that will echo through the IBEW.

"For a long time, we weren't going after big groups. With this and BGE, it's clear we can win anywhere with anybody. I give International President Stephenson a lot of credit for making that change and putting up the resources needed to win, and we can thank Assistant to the International President for Membership Development Ricky Oakland for creating the strategies to make it stick," Middleton said. "We can aim big. We can win contracts, and, if we can do it in Memphis, we can do it anywhere."


More than 700 workers at Electrolux's Memphis plant approved their first contract, less than a year after the landmark election win that reversed years of organized labor losses in the South.