Organizing Institute apprentices have hit the ground running to help autoworkers build a union at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi—a fight that has been brewing over the past decade. This is the largest class of OI apprentices to be part of any one campaign. It’s important because this is a historic campaign to show that union organizing is a civil right and to show that #BlackLivesMatter.
It’s not always about wages. That’s what OI apprentices found out fast when talking to autoworkers about what troubles they face in the workplace. Though autoworkers in the South are paid meager wages compared to their counterparts in other regions and sometimes other countries, what workers really want in Canton is respect on the job.
The autoworkers at Nissan told OI apprentice Keith Crawford that they feel like they are treated like animals on the job. Hearing their stories has been challenging, but Crawford is emphatic, “You need to commit to help people’s suffering.” Crawford is from Memphis, Tennessee, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died after marching with sanitation workers on strike against deplorable labor conditions. Crawford is as aspirational about the campaign with autoworkers, hoping they make history by winning here.
LaQuinta Alexander is another social justice advocate and OI apprentice with roots in student activism. When Trayvon Martin’s controversial death and the acquittal of the man who killed him sparked a sit-in at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, that garnered national attention—she was there with the most committed student activists of Dream Defenders for the full 30 days and nights. The experience emboldened her, though the measure failed to change the state’s stand-your-ground laws.
“I love it; I love my people. I love the new challenges and how every day is different. I love every bit of it.” Alexander learned to recognize the power of collective action to stir the national, and sometimes, global conscience, such as the beautiful solidarity between Brazil’s autoworkers for those in Canton. “Your story has meaning: it has power.”
She wanted to be a teacher, but Beatriz Guerrero found another calling after she says the Union Summer internship changed her life. She worked on the Community Labor Environment Action Network’s carwash campaign in Los Angeles, an eye-opening experience of the daily abuse workers face, “You hear about the worker who gets run over by a car, see that he looks like your father and then feel the injustice when he’s fired and treated as expendable.” She also remembers how her own father was fired for organizing in the 1980s, and it inspires her to work harder to make sure workers’ spirits aren’t crushed with the challenges confronting them.
Another former Union Summer intern and current apprentice, Alex Rodie, was born and raised in Indiana. He was deeply affected by the personal and professional accounts he heard about the power of unions. Rodie remembers his grandfather’s words about how he could not have supported a family without his union’s support. And like Guerrero, Rodie’s father also had tried to organize his workplace, and even more significantly to organize with the UAW.
OI apprentice Stacy Gray was a part of an exodus from the North in the elusive pursuit of a decent job. She learned about the union difference when Michigan became a right-to-work state. She knows what it’s like to scrap together a living as a bus driver, saving on child care costs by driving her own kids’ route. Now, Gray is committed to move working people to action. “I’ve always been a mini-revolution person, but as soon as it got too hot in the kitchen I found myself standing alone. This apprenticeship will teach me to develop the support system and bring people in.”
Workers at Nissan plants around the globe—in Brazil, South Africa and Japan—have a voice on the job, but while corporations have been getting millions of dollars in tax incentives to set up shop down South, too many see it as grounds for exploiting cheap labor. That’s why autoworkers in Canton want to be able to come together in a union to voice their concerns and to work collectively to make Nissan better. Let’s help build up the union movement and #OrganizeTheSouth!
Learn more about the Nissan campaign.
This year’s full cohort of OI-UAW apprentices:
- LaQuinta Alexander (Oviedo, Florida)
- Ronald Allen (Atlanta)
- Keith Crawford (Memphis, Tennessee)
- Rannie Fore (Atlanta)
- Stacy Gray (Atlanta)
- Tori Griffin (Knoxville, Tennessee)
- Beatriz Guerrero (Los Angeles)
- Danielle Holmes (Jackson, Mississippi)
- Jacklyn Izsraael (Atlanta)
- Ojeda Jarrett (Atlanta)
- Brandon Marlow (Atlanta)
- Cory McIntosh (Atlanta)
- Alexander Rodie (Terre Haute, Indiana)
- Susan Tewolde (Fredericksburg, Virginia)
This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on March 9, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Sonia Huq is the Organizing Field Communications Assistant at the AFL-CIO. She grew up in a Bangladeshi-American family in Boca Raton, Florida where she first learned a model of service based on serving a connected immigrant cultural community. After graduating from the University of Florida, Sonia served in the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and later worked for Manavi, the first South Asian women’s rights organization in the United States. She then earned her Master’s in Public Policy from the George Washington University and was awarded a Women’s Policy Inc. fellowship for women in public policy to work as a legislative fellow in the office of Representative Debbie Wasserman (FL-23). Sonia is passionate about working towards a more just society and hopes to highlight social justice issues and movements through her writing.