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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Jobs with Justice launches new branch in Triad area

On Labor Day, a coalition of labor leaders, college students, and other community members gathered at the Communication Workers of America (CWA) office in south Greensboro to kick off a new organization in the Triad to fight for workers’ rights. Jobs with Justice (JwJ), a national organization founded in 1987, will now have a branch in the Greensboro area, and for some people the move couldn’t come sooner.

“Some of us believe we have to organize a more concerted fight-back network,” said Ron Bauer, the president of CWA Local #3607.

At the kick-off event, chaired by Sandra Koritz from North Carolina Labor Against the War, attendees watched a short video about past efforts JwJ has been involved in.

The video began with a slideshow of photographs from labor struggles around the country while Billy Bragg’s “There is Power” played in the background.

There are no other JwJ chapters in North Carolina, a right-to-work state which is widely considered unfriendly to labor organizing. Under current right-to-work laws, workers can choose to form unions but employers are not required to recognize the organization and often opt to fire any workers who organize.

Workers across the state have managed to win a number of remarkable victories. Employees at Smithfield Meatpacking Plant in Smithfield, N.C., voted to unionize last year after a long struggle with management over the right to organize.

Other labor struggles in recent years have been successful too, such as the well-known Kmart labor struggle in which Guilford students and faculty played an important role. Guilford students have also been very active in supporting efforts of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in the Triad area.

“I think it’s really important that Jobs with Justice is starting a chapter in the Triad,” said former Guilford student Erica Bratz. Bratz worked as a union organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers, the union that worked for over a decade to organize the Smithfield plant.

“My understanding and experience of workers rights in the Greensboro area definitely lives in the context of union leaders in the factories around Greensboro being murdered by Nazi/Klan members in the Greensboro Massacre in 1979, the increasing amount of federal/state legislation regarding 287(g) . and the continued structures of racism, economic injustice and slavery that exist in the South,” said Bratz.

Jobs with Justice organizers seemed particularly interested in increasing student involvement, spending a significant amount of time before and after the event talking to students from UNC-Greensboro and Guilford who were present.

“In terms of power, people look at numbers,” Marilyn Baird said at the JwJ kickoff. Baird is the current president of National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (NCOSH) and a former labor organizer in Greensboro.

“My dad works in industrial construction and they only pay him (for driving) one way and there’s not much he can do about it. My mom was working as a janitor . and she got laid off. Now she works part time at Wal-Mart,” said Justin Nettleton, a Guilford sophomore who attended the kick-off event. “Anything that benefits families I want to be a part of . Jobs with Justice is a chance to do that.”

On its Web site, JwJ describes itself as “an action-oriented organization” that calls on members to commit to attending five events per year to support other people’s struggles. The organization is a national network of local coalitions, each of which requires five unions, five community organizations, and 100 individuals to incorporate.

The new chapter in the Triad area already has all the organizations it needs to become official, including Teamsters Local #391, The National Association of Letter Carriers, National Farm Workers’ Ministry, and Faith Action International House.

According to the event organizers, at least 30 people have signed up as well, but more are needed to reach the required number. Nettleton will be in Founders this Tuesday from 5-7 p.m. with pledge cards for anyone who wants to get involved.

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