Dennis Potvin - Tennessee Democrat

Many New Jobs … But It’s Time to Get Organized

Large companies are continually moving factories into our county. These companies are not moving to Tennessee to enjoy the scenery. They are primarily moving here in order to capitalize on the lack of state income tax, which saves them millions of dollars while depriving the municipality of important revenue to which 41 other states would have benefited.

Another reason for the influx of new factories is the relative lack of union presence in Clarksville, which deprives workers of the ability to collectively bargain for higher wages. With the notable exception of the Trane plant (built in 1958) that employs nearly 1,200 workers, the inability (or reluctance) of local factories to organize has allowed the corporations of International Drive to employ large percentages of temporary workers, who are often forced to earn less than $10 an hour doing the same kind of manual work that would pay far more in northern (union) states. Making matters worse, these temps are routinely forced to work 6- and 7-day weeks without vacation or benefits, with the specter of termination looming over their heads for missing more than a single day of work … and many days are 12-hours long.

Tennessee is a “Right to Work” state, as are half the states in the nation. But that only means that workers cannot be forced to pay union dues, and can opt-out of representation. Workers at any plant in Tennessee can organize. It’s their right to do so.

While Republicans tout the low rate of unemployment in Tennessee compared to northern industrialized areas, remember that unemployment counts only those that receive benefits. Temporary workers get no benefits once they’ve quit a thankless job. Furthermore, turnover rates among factory workers in middle Tennessee are off the charts; while unionized factories routinely see less than 1% turnover, our factories have turnover easily in the double digits. This means automatic 12-hour days for other employees who had to fill in the gaps.

I began my automotive career as a union employee. My wife was a union employee. My father and three of my uncles were union workers. My grandfather and my father-in-law were union skilled tradesmen. And even though I bargained on behalf of management for twenty years, I have always treated union leadership with respect for their positions, and I have always honored every handshake. As state legislator, I will advocate for local workforces to take every advantage of their right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining for safer workplaces and better wages, in addition to mandatory days off.

© 2017 Dennis Potvin
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