Alabama is a right to work state, meaning that employers can’t require union membership as a condition of employment. However, if unionization of the Honda plant is successful all workers would, by requirement of contract, be represented by the UAW, not just those who are union members. Right-to-work advocates say this caveat strips the rights of workers who wish not to be a member of a union, and silences their voices.
Honda Manufacturing of Alabama (HMA), in a letter to its employees, says the union is not necessary at their facility.
“We believe the evidence shows union operations are not as strong and secure as what we enjoy at HMA,” the letter states. “For those reasons, we believe a union is not necessary at HMA.”
Unions were once widely viewed as a positive voice for workers who did not have the ability to stand up for themselves. But as workplaces became safer and wages more fair, unions started shifting from workplace representation to heavy political involvement to accomplish their goals. At only 7% of the private workforce, unions are now a shadow of their former selves, although they remain a powerful bloc in the Democratic Party.
In Summer 2014, a vocal group of pro-union workers at the Mercedes plant in Vance, Alabama, urged the UAW to stop their campaign to unionize the plant because it had not gained enough traction after three failed attempts.
“This has gone on for two-and-half years, and people are burnt out,” said Kirk Garner, a long-time Mercedes employee and union supporter. “It’s over.”
Between the Mercedes, Honda, and Hyundai plants, Alabama has become a strong player in automotive manufacturing and the state’s right-to-work laws are often credited with having played a major part in that. As president and founder of Union Conservatives, Terry Bowman, stressed during a visit to Birmingham last year that UAW representation for Alabama’s auto manufacturers would not only be a blow to current jobs, but also to the state’s ability to attract new companies.
Further, A recent study by the Heritage Foundation undermined the argument that employees in right to work states such as Alabama are compensated at a lower rate that those in non-right to work states—one of the selling points of unions.
In their letter to employees, Honda stressed the manufacturer’s history of never laying off full-time workers, and of shifting new work to the plant when demand dropped during the Great Recession.
More recently, Honda argues, the company has grown employment and capability greatly at its Alabama operations, installing a $71.4 million engine assembly facility so advanced that its 250 workers and 92 robots can turn out 1,500 V-6 engines per day.
“For more than 35 years, Honda manufacturing operations in America have demonstrated an outstanding track record of success based on fundamental principles of teamwork, mutual respect and open communication,” Pratt said.
A record, many opponents of unionization argue, that will be sullied in the future if the UAW gets its way.
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— Elizabeth BeShears (@LizEBeesh) January 21, 2015