Non-Majority North Carolina: Cummins Diesel Engine Workers Breathe New Life into an Old Organizing Model

TitleNon-Majority North Carolina: Cummins Diesel Engine Workers Breathe New Life into an Old Organizing Model
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsStrauss, Mariya
JournalNew Labor Forum
Pagination106 - 110
Date Published2015///
Keywordscollective bargaining, community organizations, corporations, industry, labor, racism, union democracy, unorganized workers, working class

[Excerpt] Loud, dirty diesel engines move just about every load imaginable. Their smoke and roar are so ubiquitous that one’s brain almost does not register them; yet every piece of heavy construction equipment, every big-rig truck, every school bus, most boats, and many of the pickup trucks on the road run on diesel. And the engines are big business. Cummins, Inc., which manufactures and distributes diesel engines, reported a whopping $1.2 billion in profits for the third quarter of 2014; shares of its stock are expected to rise by as much as 15 percent this year. But that large pile of cash has not flowed equitably to the workers at Cummins’ engine assembly plant in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, one of eleven such Cummins facilities in the United States. The Rocky Mount plant, located in eastern North Carolina’s Black Belt, has about a thousand employees, with another three hundred or so temp and subcontracted workers doing everything from working the assembly line to providing housekeeping, painting, and other services for the plant. The Rocky Mount facility has a majority African-American workforce. Globally, Cummins employs a workforce of 47,900 people. The Rocky Mount Engine Plant (RMEP) is nestled in the northeast quadrant of the least-unionized state in the country: just 2.9 percent of North Carolina’s workers belong to unions, and seven years after the start of the Great Recession, its unemployment rate remains among the highest in the nation. Against those punishing odds, and without a majority of workers signing union cards, thirty-year employee Jim Wrenn, who serves as president of the Carolina Auto, Aerospace & Machine Workers Union (CAAMWU), a branch of the United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 150, and his coworkers at RMEP have built a union anyway.