A Unionized Model for Clean Technology Manufacturing

From the AFL-CIO

About 400 Tesla workers in Buffalo, New York, could soon become card-carrying members of the United Steelworkers (USW) and the Electrical Workers (IBEW). An organizing drive kicked off in freezing temperatures this morning to educate workers coming and going into the plant. “We want to have a voice at Tesla so that we can have a better future for ourselves and our families,” said Aaron Nicpon, a member of the organizing committee.

The USW and IBEW are working with both the production and maintenance employees at the Tesla solar panel factory in a joint organizing drive. The plant is on the site of a former steel mill.

What’s unique about this campaign is that the USW and IBEW have partnered with the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York and the Coalition for Economic Justice to promote the importance of unionized green jobs.

“This historic USW site will be the model of how emerging clean technology manufacturing can provide such an opportunity for its workers,” said USW District 4 Director John Shinn.

Tesla promised to create 1,460 jobs in Buffalo, including 500 at this factory, within two years of the site’s completion, in exchange for $750 million from the state of New York.

“I wanted to work at Tesla because I wanted a job in green energy, a job that can change the world,” said Rob Walsh, another member of the organizing committee. “But I also want a fair wage for my work.”

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Posted In: From AFL-CIO, Union Matters

Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

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