Union workers upset over lay offs

March 18, 2009 9:03:10 PM PDT
The recession may be creating an opportunity for union organizing in North Carolina, a state with a long history of keeping unions out.One union is taking advantage of layoffs at a diesel engine plant near Rocky Mount.

The Cummins factory in the Edgecombe County town of Whitakers does not recognize the Carolina Auto, Aerospace and Machine Workers Union. But some of the plant's workers are still union members and laid off.

"I do think it's an opportunity," former Cummins worker and union member Chuck Yoak said. Hopefully, it brings home the point of a need for a union."

Yoak was given $9,000 in severance pay and was laid off from his job Tuesday. But he was back today, carrying signs and handing out union flyers.

He is upset, because at Cummins plants in the northeast --where the union is recognized-- laid off workers have been given recall rights.

Company officials tell Eyewitness News that's because they have no choice.

The union contract states that if the company hires workers in the next 2 and a-half years it has to bring back laid off union workers first.

Yoak says he couldn't say it better himself.

"We deal with the people in the North because they have a union contract," Yoak said.

And that's why the union's national organizing representative came from Pittsburgh to the community center in Whitakers to hold an afternoon meeting.

Deanna Harris and her friend were first to arrive. They are among the hundreds laid off at Cummins; they also got the bad news Tuesday.

"The union didn't come across my mind until yesterday," Harris said.

So Wednesday afternoon Harris and others got the union pitch. But she had already decided that it was time that benefits for workers up north come to the Heart of Carolina.

"If they got a union, why can't we get one down here," Harris said. "And I see why people is pushing it forward. And you know what, yeah, I'll sign."

But even if they all get their jobs back, it will take more than the handful of workers at this meeting get a union contract in a state notorious for not having them.


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