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Rowan, Iredell workers discuss working-class rights at town hall

STATESVILLE – In an animated town hall meeting on Thursday, workers from Rowan and Iredell counties discussed their rights.

The event, hosted by the United Auto Workers local chapter 3520 in tandem with the AFL-CIO, aimed to discuss worker’s rights, which many in attendance considered to be issues ignored by policy makers and officials. The event was also a call to action — to vote for public officials who will take action to protect worker rights.

It was a room full of one of Rowan County’s largest employers — Daimler North America, which operates a plant in Cleveland. Attendees discussed successes of the UAW and hardships suffered.

The working rights spelled out Thursday had nine points, including:

  • The right to a good job with fair wages.
  • The right to quality health care.
  • The right to paid time off with flexible, predictable scheduling.
  • The right to freedom from discrimination.
  • The right to retire with dignity.
  • The right to education.
  • The right to join together.
  • The right to have a voice in democracy.

Daimler has a history of increasing or decreasing total employment based on demand. And unemployment will come back, said Scott Thrower, a representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. It is something the employees need to prepare for, Thrower said.

James Waggoner, also a Freightliner employee, said he came to see increases in worker rights.

Other voices spoke about worker rights, adding to the voices of those in Daimler.

“I’m a worker,” said keynote speaker and Salisbury Mayor Al Heggins. “Both of my parents worked in the mill.”

If they had been listened to about working conditions, she said, life could have been even better for the Heggins family.

Recalling her own action to create living wages for Salisbury city employees, Heggins said policymakers need to make sure that every worker should have a living wage if workers are to be happy. There is a need to invest in human capital, Heggins said.

There is a need for collective bargaining, she added.

“Tonight is about raising the bar,” said MaryBe McMillan, president of the state AFL-CIO.

McMillan said health care, jobs and the people’s ability to provide for families are at stake.

There is no better time to begin bargaining for worker rights, said Ashley Hawkins, vice president of Southern Piedmont Central Labor Council. There are more jobs available than there are employees to fill them, she said.

Freightliner jobs in Cleveland would not have the benefits they do without the right for workers to collectively bargain, said Cleveland Town Commissioner Travis Summit.

The town hall ended with McMillan asking each person in the crowd to begin by taking a small step of action — helping to spread benefits of the Daimler union to all in the working class.

“It is not about party, it is about policy,” McMillan said.

Correction: This article has been updated to correctly state the name of United Auto Workers local chapter 3520, to say that there are more jobs than there are employees to fill them, and to say the Scott Thrower is a representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. We apologize for the error! 

 

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