Op-Ed: In NC auto workers’ fight for better wages, public school teachers see themselves

Supporters of the United Auto Workers local 2404 cheer as employees walk off the job in strike outside a General Motors facility in Charlotte in 2023. (AP Photo/Erik Verduzco)

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By Tamika Walker Kelly, Bryan Proffitt

April 10, 2024

Last week, auto workers kicked off negotiations with Daimler Freightliner over work in NC plants. The leaders of NC’s top public educator organization say the auto workers’ fight is linked with their own.

[Editor’s Note: The following is written by the leaders of the NC Association of Educators, the state’s largest advocacy org for educators.]

Last week, members of the United Auto Workers held a rally to kick off their contract negotiations with the Daimler Freightliner company over work at their North Carolina plants.

Similar efforts are underway in Tennessee and Alabama, and it is clear that we have reached a new moment in the movement for fairness for workers in this country. The South is sliding from the margins to the center, our unions are growing, and the North Carolina Association of Educators could not be prouder to stand with our UAW siblings as we work alongside them to secure a state where every family can win.

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Auto workers and public school workers ARE family, like public school workers and ALL families in our state. In every public school from the mountains to the coast, across the racial identities that some politicians try to use to divide us, educators love and lift up the kids of the working class families of our communities.

They are OUR kids, both figuratively and literally. Their parents are our partners, siblings, parents, kids, cousins, and best friends.

When they have economic or life struggles and instabilities, we see it on our buses and in our hallways and classrooms. When families can adequately meet the needs of their kids, they come to us ready to learn, and we all have the chance to learn and thrive. We are in this together in our public schools every day, and our members know that our students’ growth and wellness are inextricably linked with their families and communities.

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WATCH: There is no teacher shortage, but there is a shortage of people willing to get bad pay for a hard job. 🤕 Senior Editor Billy Ball takes a look at a new report documenting more than 10,000 educator departures in NC in 2023. That’s the highest number in two decades. For more NC news and politics, follow @cardinalandpine. #school #education #ncpol #unionstrong #publiceducation #ncteachers #nceducators #teachersofnc #nced

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Our families’ lives WILL get better when UAW workers win a better contract. That’s what workers, standing together in our unions, do. From the end of child labor to the 40-hour week and the elimination of race- and gender-based employment barriers, this history of wins for workers and unions has made our country more livable for everyone.

Those gains and that collective wellness, however, are not guaranteed.

Daimler Freightliner workers have poignantly pointed out that it’s “not like it used to be” at the plant, where they could once count on a living wage, decent health benefits, an annual vacation, and the opportunity to survive and thrive with one job. The last few decades have seen the unraveling of their living wage and working conditions, and as a result, they are turning to union-building and fighting back to reclaim their dignity.

Public school staff in every county in this state have also experienced the dismantling of our working conditions and school communities. We, too, are similarly turning to union-building and fighting back for ourselves, our kids, and our families as the answer.

Working class families in North Carolina are increasingly facing stark choices: struggle and suffer, hustle hard to survive on our own, or stand together to win the lives we all deserve.

We are proud of our UAW family for standing together, and we are encouraged by the upsurge of workers joining and strengthening their unions all over the country, from Starbucks to Amazon to auto plants to schools.

Our state, which still boasts Jim Crow-era restrictions on workers’ rights and among the lowest rates of unionized workers in the whole country, still has a long way to go. But movements like the Daimler workers are leading inspire hope in what is possible, and we look forward to celebrating their win with them on the way towards our own.

They deserve respect, safe working conditions, and stable wages. So do public school workers, and we stand united with our UAW family, and their families, like we do in our schools and communities every single day.

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