Service Workers Across South Launch Union After Decades of Unfair Treatment

Service employees from throughout the U.S. South signed union playing cards Saturday on the conclusion of a three-day summit in Columbia, South Carolina, the place they agreed to hitch forces to fight exploitative companies and the politicians who allow them.

The employees — who’re employed at quick meals eating places, fuel stations, retail shops, and different workplaces — joined the Union of Southern Service Employees (USSW), a part of the Service Staff Worldwide Union (SEIU) and an affiliate of the nationwide financial justice group Struggle for $15.

“With eyes large open to the previous and immense hope for a greater future, we’re constructing a union to struggle for dwelling wages, truthful working circumstances, and a voice on the job,” stated Brandon Beachum, a Panera Bread employee from Atlanta. “We’re coming collectively and digging in for the lengthy haul as a union as a result of collective motion is one of the best answer to enhance our lives and help our households.”

The unionized employees held up their signed union playing cards whereas chanting, “We’re fired up, can’t take no extra!”

The South has the bottom union density of any area within the U.S., with simply 6% of employees represented by a collective bargaining unit. In South Carolina, just one.7% of workers belong to a union.

In the meantime, preemption laws — largely handed by majority-white legislatures throughout the South — have saved cities from elevating wages for many years, leaving employees throughout the area struggling to make ends meet whereas incomes as little as $7.25 per hour, whilst greater than 40% of the nation lives in locations the place voters and lawmakers have permitted a $15 per hour minimal wage.

The united states contains folks from a wide range of jobs and workplaces “as a result of corporations throughout the South make use of a low-wage, excessive turnover mannequin,” stated the group in a press assertion.

“It’s just about unattainable for quick meals, care, retail, warehouse, and different employees to hitch a union by present guidelines,” the united states stated.

The union launched with a number of calls for for employers throughout the area, together with:

  • A seat on the desk for employees to make choices about working circumstances, set up company accountability for remedy of employees, and guarantee respect for employees’ proper to prepare freed from retaliation;
  • Truthful pay and an finish to wage theft throughout industries;
  • Dignity and equal remedy, together with equal pay for all employees and safety from discrimination and harassment;
  • Well being and security by healthcare advantages, sick go away, and protected office protections and tools; and
  • Truthful and constant scheduling, together with the flexibility to work full time hours with protected staffing ranges, and common weekly schedules.

The summit was held as high-profile fights for employees’ rights proceed at workplaces together with Starbucks, the University of California, and HarperCollins Publishers.

Low-wage employees within the South face a deeply entrenched historical past of racially discriminatory labor practices. Agricultural and home employees have been excluded by racist Southern Congress members from labor legal guidelines handed within the Thirties, together with the Truthful Labor Requirements Act of 1938 and the Nationwide Labor Relations Act of 1935.

Contemplating the area’s historical past of leaving largely-Black workforces out of landmark labor legal guidelines, stated Terrence Sensible, a quick meals employee and Struggle for $15 chief, “it’s no shock that just about 80% of employees in South Carolina make lower than $15 per hour.”

On the summit, attendees ready to take collective actions as a union. They mentioned the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, which included white and Black farm employees throughout the Nice Despair; the 1969 strike by Black hospital employees in Charleston; and the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union, led by Fannie Lou Hamer.

“Black, brown and immigrant service employees throughout the South are main the struggle for a basic transformation of our economic system and democracy aimed toward re-writing outdated legal guidelines which have all the time held again working folks and stopped them from gaining a voice by unions,” stated Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU. “Collectively within the Union of Southern Service Employees, employees throughout states and workplaces within the South will turn out to be an unstoppable pressure that no union-busting company or racist politician dare ignore.”