When unions and management work together to level the playing field in today’s global market, workers win.
That was the message IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson took to a groundbreaking labor meeting held in early February in Florida, which aimed to increase communications between global manufacturing giant Siemens and its labor stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic.
|The IBEW delegation, led by International President Stephenson, bottom right, was one of six North American unions represented in talks with Siemens and German union IG Metall.
The meeting brought Siemens executives together with representatives from all six North American unions with members employed by the company, as well as leaders from the German union IG Metall. It represented an important step in a process that could result in the company adopting neutrality toward organizing in its nearly 150 nonunion plants across the U.S. and Canada.
“We really appreciate IG Metall and the Siemens Works Council’s involvement in this and their encouragement for the company to come together to talk with us about the future of the Siemens’ North American manufacturing,” said IBEW Manufacturing Department Director Randy Middleton, who hopes the meeting will lead to increased cooperation between labor and management. “Reps from all the unions really came together, and we’re hopeful this leads to serious organizing at Siemens facilities all over the U.S. and Canada.”
The IBEW represents about 1,400 Siemens workers at 12 plants across the U.S. and Canada, but the company has another 40,000 employees at 149 North American plants that are still nonunion. The German engineering conglomerate employs about 350,000 people worldwide and makes everything from circuit breakers to medical equipment and subway trains.
In Germany, Siemens and IG Metall have long enjoyed a productive relationship, in part because nearly all of the company’s 100,000 workers, including engineers and managers, belong to unions. German law also requires works councils, independent boards comprised of labor and management representatives that must sign off on major decisions like layoffs and work distribution.
In the U.S., the story is more complicated. Because unions here aren’t always on the same page, Siemens has traditionally resisted organizing within their U.S. facilities.
“That’s really what these meetings are all about,” Middleton said. “Showing Siemens that we can all work together and get along will go a long way to addressing some of their concerns here in North America.”
That’s not to say, however, that Siemens hasn’t had good experiences with their union shops on this side of the Atlantic, especially in IBEW facilities. In Grand Prairie, Texas, the company recently invested over $5 million into the low and medium voltage switchgear plant there, adding more than 70 employees from nonunion shops.
“Siemens understands that with the IBEW, they’re getting the best-trained, hardest-working men and women out there,” Middleton said. “Our people live and work by the Code of Excellence, and I know they appreciate that as an employer.”
With momentum building toward Siemens’ annual worldwide meeting in June in Washington, D.C., union leaders in the U.S. and Canada are hopeful that the $100 billion company will vote to adopt neutrality for organizing at its remaining North American plants.
Siemens executives are planning to visit IBEW headquarters during the lead-up to the June 16 vote.
“We’re confident that the leaders at Siemens value quality and hard work the same way we do here at the IBEW, and we look forward to hosting them in June,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “Its people are any company’s most valuable asset, and we hope to have the opportunity to be a voice for even more of them at Siemens in the future.”