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Democrats Try to Navigate a Looming Strike in North Carolina


Barring a last-minute breakthrough, more than 7,000 workers are scheduled to roll off their truck and bus assembly lines Friday evening in the swing state of North Carolina, a new infusion for the United Auto Workers. Activity in the south Directly in the 2024 elections.

North Carolina has never been hospitable to organized labor, and the midnight strike at the North American subsidiary of German industrial giant Daimler was greeted with consternation by the state’s Democratic establishment, which has long tried to project a moderate pro-business bent. .

But Sean Fine, the brash new president of the United Workers Union, couldn’t care less.

“We don’t expect politicians to save the day, but at the end of the day, politicians have an obligation to the people who elect them,” he said in an interview on Thursday, adding: “It is the moment that defines our generation. This is a time when politicians need to Choose a side.”

In September, President Biden Join the picket line Of the successful strike by the UAW on the Big Three US automakers, and on Thursday, White House spokeswoman Robin Patterson indicated that the president could be equally aggressive if there was a withdrawal from Daimler.

“President Biden strongly believes that those who benefit from our strong support for made-in-America manufacturing should work in good faith to do everything possible to ensure that jobs — including those in North Carolina — remain good-paying middle-class jobs, and that all workers “They have a fair and free choice to join the union if they so choose,” she said.

Democratic leaders in North Carolina, including Gov. Roy Cooper, have been more ambiguous and deferential toward Daimler Truck, a major employer in the state.

“North Carolina’s workers are the best and most productive in the world and need to be paid fair wages,” Mr. Cooper said in a statement Thursday. “We are proud that Daimler Trucks and its great workers in the UAW are building the future of electric school bus travel here in North Carolina, and I will continue to monitor the contract negotiations and push for a quick resolution.”

Josh Stein, the Democratic attorney general running to replace Gov. Cooper, who is term-limited, was similarly circumspect in a statement.

“North Carolina workers provide the best products in the world, and they deserve recognition,” he said. “I have been in contact with both parties to encourage them to continue working toward an agreement that supports workers and enables the company to continue to succeed.”

Making matters even more sensitive, one of the union’s main grievances is the shift to electric vehicles that Biden has pushed for, in part through his $5 billion Clean School Bus Program, which has funneled $14 million worth of federal money directly into the Thomas Bus. Bilt, a subsidiary of Daimler. A department in High Point, North Carolina, and millions more through school districts are purchasing Thomas Built electric buses. The union says workers at the High Point plant are among the lowest paid in the company.

“Our taxpayer money is not being pumped into these companies to help with the transition to electric vehicles just for a few people at the top to get rich and leave everyone else behind,” Mr Fine said. “There has to be better standards.”

To the UAW, a successful strike in the state The second lowest percentage of unionized workers In the country is vital. A six-week shutdown occurred at the three largest U.S. automakers last fall He received the biggest pay raises In decades.

This helped push UAW organizers into the non-union South, where Workers at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee voted overwhelmingly last week to join the union, an accomplishment that served as a springboard for union organizers. Daimler Truck North America is a union, but UAW officials want to win record wage gains at Daimler plants in Mount Holly, Cleveland, High Point and Gastonia, N.C., and parts distribution centers in Atlanta and Memphis before next month’s organized vote on Mercedes-Benz in Alabama.

“Our fight at Daimler is closely linked to something else going on in the South,” Mr. Fine said He told members in a broadcast from Detroit Tuesday night. “Auto workers at non-union auto companies have launched a national movement to unionize.”

But Tennessee and Alabama won’t be contenders in 2024. North Carolina is, and Democratic politicians there appear to be reticent hosts.

Mr. Cooper and Mr. Stein positioned themselves as centrists, and their success centered around improving education and job training and diversifying North Carolina’s economy, said Ferrell Guillory, a professor at the University of North Carolina.

“There is no particular upside, politically, for center and center-left Democrats to come up against in the same way that Gretchen Whitmer might,” he said, referring to the heavily unionized Michigan governor. “Cooper and Stein are not anti-Union, but they are not Northern politicians either.”

In contrast, Biden has declared himself “the most pro-union president in history” as he has received union endorsements, most recently on Wednesday from the North American Construction Trades Union. If Biden intervenes forcefully, he could find himself in conflict with North Carolina’s top Democrats when the state’s top offices are at stake.

A year ago, the Biden administration appeared to be using the leverage provided by federal support for electric school buses To assist the United Steelworkers in uniting the Blue Bird union, a school bus company in Fort Valley, Georgia. Two weeks before the federal vote, the Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the Clean School Bus Program, Recipients demanded of federal subsidies detailed the benefits they were offering their workers, and required companies to “remain neutral in any regulatory push.”

This time, an EPA spokesman said, the agency did not deal with Daimler.

Mr. Fine said Thursday that the union had worked with management, and placed responsibility for a potential strike on management. But he was aware of the political ramifications of a major labor movement in a swing state.

“You’re either going to stand with the working class and the people who make this country move and make this world move, or they’re going to stand with corporations and business leaders and billionaires,” he said. “And if that’s what they choose, then when it comes time to vote, we could see a shift.”

Pro-union groups want to see Democrats advance. Before the vote on Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Republican governors participated in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. Issue a statement Saying that joining a union would jeopardize auto jobs in their states. Erica Smiley, executive director of Jobs With Justice, which helps workers seeking to join unions and bargain collectively, said Thursday that Mr. Cooper should draw comparisons to North Carolina, which has been largely anti-union.

“Workers are doing their part to demand and fight for democracy,” she said. “They give us and politicians like Roy Cooper the opportunity to right centuries of wrongs.”

Daimler spokeswoman Anja Weinert said the company was continuing to negotiate “in good faith.”

Any new contract should “allow Daimler Truck North America to continue delivering products that enable our customers to keep the world moving,” she said.

The UAW sees it differently. On Thursday, it filed four complaints with Mr. Biden’s National Labor Relations Board, accusing Daimler Truck of retaliating against union organizers, interfering in collective bargaining, discriminating against union members and bargaining in bad faith.

The union, which has already backed the president’s re-election, clearly wants help from Mr. Biden. In talking points leading up to the strike, the UAW leaned toward supporting electric school buses.

“The government is spending up to $345,000 per bus in taxpayer money,” union officials wrote. “At the same time, the workers who make the product see their quality of life going in the wrong direction. Why should American taxpayer money support corporate greed?” members ask.





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