Benefits of Clean Energy Economy Are Moving South

A Win for Unions Highlights the Benefits of the Growing Clean Energy Economy

Workers at a Tennessee plant manufacturing electric vehicles have overwhelmingly voted to affiliate with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union. The vote marks a major breakthrough in union efforts to represent employees in the booming electric vehicle manufacturing and battery plants now expanding in North Carolina and elsewhere across the South.

Voters at the Chattanooga, Tennessee, Volkswagen plant voted in support of joining the union by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. The results appear to reflect approval of new leadership at the UAW, including recent successful bargaining for improved wages and benefits at existing unionized plants and a return to active organizing efforts at non-union plants. The vote reversed an earlier narrow loss by the UAW at the same plant in 2019.

The Tennessee vote was followed by another win in North Carolina. Daimler workers–including UAW members that manufacture the famous Thomas Built Buses (including their electric school buses) in High Point, NC–successfully negotiated a new contract over the weekend. The new contracts include substantial wage increases for the workers. Next up on their organizing calendar is voting in May on a unionization drive at Mercedes plants near Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 

What Does This Mean for NC?

The implications of these votes are substantial for historically anti-union North Carolina, where state law and politics have long made it difficult to enact and enforce laws protecting workplace safety and health. 

An alliance between environmental advocacy organizations and labor groups has developed and strengthened in recent years, due first to the development of the environmental justice movement, and now to the promise of the clean energy economy for both good jobs and a cleaner environment. 
Such shared priorities have contributed to more active electoral support of the same key candidates as the NC League of Conservation Voters and the national League of Conservation Voters. Notable examples in North Carolina this year include Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, as well as Josh Stein for governor.

Check out our collaborative piece on clean energy jobs from our executive director, Carrie Clark, and president of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, Marybe McMillan.

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