🖤 Donations of all sizes power our public service journalism Give Now
A new day for labor organizing in the South?
Apr 17, 2024
Episode 1141

A new day for labor organizing in the South?

HTML EMBED:
COPY
VW workers vote on whether to unionize.

A union election at Volkswagen is testing the power of the United Auto Workers. As voting gets underway this week, guest host Nova Safo explains what unionization could mean for three big automakers and the labor movement in the South. Plus, how a unanimous Supreme Court ruling expands the scope of workplace bias suits. And, why Billy Joel came up at a Pentagon press briefing.

Here’s everything we talked about today:

We love to hear from you. Send your questions and comments to makemesmart@marketplace.org or leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART.

Make Me Smart April 17, 2024 Transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Kimberly Adams 

Let’s do a show.

Nova Safo 

Yes, let’s do it.

Kimberly Adams 

Hello everyone, I’m Kimberly Adams. Welcome back to Make Me Smart, where we make today make sense.

Nova Safo 

I’m Nova Sofo, filling in for Kai Ryssdal. Thanks for joining us this Wednesday. It’s April 17.

Kimberly Adams 

Yes, and thank you everyone for listening in. Today, we’re going to do some news and then some smiles. So, to go ahead and get right to it. Nova, what caught your attention today?

Nova Safo 

Today’s the first day of three days of voting in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the Volkswagen auto plant. I love saying Chattanooga. I really do. I remember actually, I used to have to cover at the Detroit Auto Show on an annual basis. I remember the first year. I think it was the first year I was there and hearing the Volkswagen CEO in a heavy German accent pronounced Chattanooga was a lot of fun. Anyway, back to the story. So, this is really pivotal because of course, last year the UAW had big victories or, you know, historic contracts, we could say, with the big three Detroit American-ish automakers. GM and Ford, or American owned and Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler and Dodge and Ram. Anyway so, 25% pay hikes was the headline coming out of those labor contracts, which were ratified and considered a big victory. And there was no secret about what the UAW’s plans were. Big victories with the Detroit three, and they had their sights aimed squarely at southern auto plants, where the foreign auto companies are located, because they’re nonunion states, and they’re nonunion shops, or at least, you know, states that can be unionized, but it’s hard. And there’s a lot of animosity, whether historic, cultural, or legal. So, in this case, Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Volkswagen plant is considered the first and prime target. They’ve tried twice before over the last decade. And at least one analyst, you know, from Cornell University, labor analyst sent an analysis saying this could actually happen this time. It’s the third time around trying, and they got 40% of the vote last time, very likely, a victory is actually possible this time around. It’s a tough fight. And if this happens, it could really open up other plants in the Mercedes Benz plant in Alabama, potentially, also the Nissan plant that is down in the south, at least one of the plants. So yeah, it’s a big deal. And, you know, it’s an example that the union effort is, while gaining steam, it’s still really difficult. We’ve seen that with a Starbucks unionization effort at the various stores. And it reminds me of the statistic that came out not too long ago, looking at the total unionization last year, actually, as a percentage of the American workforce, it declined because the labor force increased more than the number of young people on union rolls. So, it’s definitely a difficult battle, but UAW thinks it’s going to make inroads.

Kimberly Adams 

Yeah, they’ve really been on a tear. And I mean, I’m sure it makes it a bit easier to have such a president whose so openly advocating for the unions even going on picket lines, the way that Biden didn’t really unprecedented way. You know, you brought up the example of Starbucks and some of the struggles there. But it does seem that manufacturing, you know, these heavy manufacturing jobs are where unions still have a little bit of an easier foothold. But it’ll be pretty earth shattering if, you know, if they really can get going in the south. So yeah, this will be something for sure to watch.

Nova Safo 

Indeed.

Kimberly Adams 

So, when are we going to see the outcome of this again?

Nova Safo 

Well, they’re voting for three days starting today. The outcome takes days longer after that. So, I’m not sure exactly when it will be, but I assume by next week, we’ll have some results. Probably early next week.

Kimberly Adams 

Okay. Definitely worth watching. Well, mine is news that, you know, we do know the outcome because the Supreme Court today, basically. And I’m just going to read here from the Associated Press. “The Supreme Court on Wednesday made it easier for workers who are transferred from one job to another against their will to pursue discrimination claims under federal civil rights law, even when they are not demoted or docked pay.” A little bit of backstory here. If you want to prove that you’ve had you know, sex or gender or, you know, racial discrimination in the workplace, you have to prove that harm was done to you in the process of maybe being moved into a different job or change in your responsibilities that basically it harms you financially usually is the measure of that. But there was a police officer in St. Louis, a police sergeant actually. Jaytonya Muldrow. Here’s the AP again, “worked for nine years in a plainclothes position in the police department’s intelligence division before a new commander reassigned her to a uniformed position in which she supervised patrol officer. The new commander wanted a male officer in the intelligence job, and sometimes called Muldrow “Mrs.” instead of “sergeant.” So, this was a case where, you know, she didn’t get a pay decrease. She didn’t, you know, lose her job. She wasn’t fired. But her job was changed, basically, because of her gender. And the court said, yeah, that’s enough to sue for discrimination. And that’s a pretty big deal. Even though it was a forced lateral transfer, not a demotion, and that can have impact on a bunch of other cases. So, this is a really interesting development. And, yeah, because a lower court had said the woman hadn’t proved the transfer, and this is in the New York Times, “would amount to a tangible change in working conditions that produces a material employment disadvantage. And Judge Kagan wrote that that was a wrong standard. It was enough to show some harm.” And so, this is a pretty big deal. It’ll be interesting to see what other cases get reviewed as a result of this outcome. So yeah, that’s my news.

Nova Safo 

That is so interesting. So, it sounds like basically, correct me if I’m wrong, they’re expanding the definition of harm here in terms of career development, or, you know, how, you know, trajectory can be.

Kimberly Adams 

Yeah, I think so. And there were, you know, the outcome was unanimous. But justices Alito, Kavanaugh, and Thomas wrote opinions noting some disagreement with the majority ruling. But they all kind of, you know, were on board that this was not fair and should not have happened and definitely follows. Now how the lawsuit will turn out is a different matter altogether. This just sort of gives the opening to pursue the discrimination suit.

Nova Safo 

Very interesting.

Kimberly Adams

Sorry about the beeping in the background. There’s a garbage truck.

Nova Safo

Well, that’s city living for you. So, it sounds like. I mean, pretty astonishing to me that it’s a unanimous ruling. We don’t get a lot of those out of Supreme Court these days.

Kimberly Adams 

You know, we actually do get quite a few. They just don’t make news. Yeah, it’s sort of there’s a bunch of stuff on the docket that is not as controversial. We just don’t hear about them as much, but there are quite a few things. Even, you know, them deciding not to take up a case can often be a unanimous ruling. So, I think it’s just the more divided the cases that get a lot more attention. Any who let’s move on from the news to our make me smiles. What do you got, Nova?

Nova Safo 

Okay. Well, okay. So, I’ll preface this by saying it makes me smile not because I’m happy company has to pay large sums of money to settle lawsuits but because I think it is a victory for journalism. Two settlements. News of two different settlements. Hugh Grant says he got an enormous sum of money from the parent company of The Sun newspaper in England, in Britain, and that is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s empire. And they were accused of some really egregious wrongdoing that has to do with that, you know, hacking scandal that’s over a decade long now. News of the World was the main target and the center of that scandal, but The Sun newspaper, also owned by Murdoch’s parent company News Group Newspapers is also implicated. And they have always denied wrongdoing, still do in the settlement. It’s a private settlement. They won’t say how much the money was. Hugh Grant says it was a huge sum, but you know, one thing he wrote that was really funny on X. He wrote, “As is common with entirely innocent people, they are offering me an enormous sum of money to keep this matter out of court.” You know, which is such a Hugh Grant thing to say.

Kimberly Adams

It’s interesting.

Nova Safo

The implications are so egregious, though, right? I mean, that’s the thing that I think helps set a line between what is journalism, and what isn’t journalism.

Kimberly Adams 

Yeah. But I mean, the reason that he’s saying that’s, you know, they’re offering the sum of money to keep the matter out of court. It’s apparently, and I’m looking at this AP article that you linked here. There’s “a court policy that would have stuck Grant with a huge legal bill even if he prevailed at trial — a reality that could also force claimant Prince Harry to settle, their lawyer said. A civil court rule intended to avoid jamming of courts would have required Grant to pay legal fees to both sides if he won at trial but was awarded anything lower than the settlement offer.” So, in that case, they could offer him some sort of really high settlement offer. But if it’s less than he would eventually win, he would, you know, be footing the bill for both. So, he couldn’t risk it. So, I mean, like?

Nova Safo 

Yeah. Yeah, in a sense, he kind of has to take it. Yeah. So, that’s definitely the glass half empty part of this. But I think the important part is that there is a financial penalty, to pay for that kind of egregious behavior. We’re talking about hacking people’s phones and breaking into their homes through third parties, things like that. So, that is one. And the second one, on the same, because, you know, money talks, and I think companies will change their behaviors if there’s money involved. Look at Tucker Carlson and Fox News. And that brings us to Smartmatic, the voting machine company. It just settled its case with the OAN network. I believe it’s pronounced OAN.

Kimberly Adams 

OAN, yeah. One American News Network.

Nova Safo 

One American News Network. Yes. That’s right. Anyway, so they, they were accused in a lawsuit by Smartmatic of, you know, really damaging their brand, accusing of airing conspiracy theories that Smartmatic somehow changed the election in favor of Biden and did it in multiple states when Smartmatic machines were only being used in Los Angeles County for one thing. So, demonstratively false claims, which have been put out there repeatedly.

Kimberly Adams

Over and over again.

Nova Safo

Over and over again. And they were not the only ones. Of course, Fox News is being sued. Newsmax is also being sued, but now OAN has settled. We don’t know how much either. So, it’s again confidential, but accountability, nevertheless. And as we know, Fox News settled with Dominion voting systems as well. And these repercussions continue. And I think, again, it sets an important dividing line between what is actually journalism, and what isn’t journalism.

Kimberly Adams 

Yeah, I would hope that at some point, there’s some kind of research and maybe academics can do this work or other journalists who knows, to compare the settlements versus how much money these news organizations made off of this, of spreading these lies. You know, because this is generally what these companies are using as the basis for the settlement or the damages that they’re demanding, is either how much of a hit there was to their own business, or how much money was made off of the lies. So, you know, and that Wall Street Journal article that you link to that we will probably link to in the show notes. You know, it points out that Fox paid almost $780 million to avoid the trial over the defamation claims from Dominion. And how does that $780 million compare to how much money Fox made in additional revenue from, you know, pushing that lie? It’s hard to parse that out. And who knows how that compares to the, you know, damage that Dominion voting systems had to its reputation for that time period. But yeah, it’s good to see some accountability. Who knows if it’s a good balance of accountability.

Nova Safo 

Indeed. You’re right, of course. It’s really hard to parse out the financial incentives versus disincentives here. But to me, the reason it makes me smile is the broader picture. And that’s what makes me hopeful in that the public gets at least another line drawn between what is journalism and what is at best masquerading as journalism, but it’s not. It’s, you know, it’s something else, whether it’s opinion, whether it’s misinformation for entertainment value, so that people watch. I think it’s really important for the public to become much more discerning of that, and that happens through education. And I think these kinds of drip-by-drip cases help in that. And I think that’s why I’m optimistic when I see these kinds of victories.

Kimberly Adams 

Hey, I will take whatever optimism we can get. Mine is a little more directly just funny. In a very serious Pentagon briefing the other day, there was a reporter named Jeff Schogol from Task & Purpose who is kind of known for inserting pop culture references, shall we say? And he was asking about a fire at the Army’s ammunition plant in Scranton. And here’s what he said:

Jeff Schogol

“At the risk of invoking Billy Joel, do we know who started the fire?”

Patrick Ryder

“On this year, Jeff? No change in the US force posture at this time. On the fire, I’d have to refer you to the army because we didn’t start the fire.”

Kimberly Adams 

Well done. Right on point. Really appreciate their ability to rise to the occasion.

Nova Safo 

And not only that but do it with an absolute deadpan. That really gets it going.

Kimberly Adams 

That was great. That was Air Force Major General Pat Ryder during that press briefing at the Pentagon, and the Air Force seemed to be happy to defer that one to the army. And it made me chuckle and thank you very much. There’s not much good on X these days, but occasionally.

Nova Safo 

Occasionally. And I’ve seen other clips of this general or spokesperson, however, we want to refer to him but answering questions from this reporter. And clearly, he likes his questions, I think, because he’s always has a little smile on his face, and he volleys back, and it’s fun to see.

Kimberly Adams 

I mean, it was a grim time when it comes to military operations globally. And so, I appreciate them taking whatever moment of levity that we can get. So yes, I imagined that nobody really cared that much about the fire. He probably asked that question just for that reference.

Nova Safo 

Yeah, I know right?

Kimberly Adams

Exactly. Exactly.

Nova Safo

I gotta say, though. I’m going to say something really embarrassing. Kimberly, get ready. I didn’t know this song. I had to Google. I had to google Billy Joel’s “We Did Start The Fire.”

Kimberly Adams

What?

Nova Safo

I know. I know.

Kimberly Adams

How old are you?

Nova Safo

Here’s the thing. I went down a rabbit hole. I know. Well, you know, I’m not. I don’t know a lot of pop culture. Okay. It’s just the truth. And people who have heard me on the show, just know that that’s the case. Anyway, so I normally Googled this but then I listened to the song and I’m like, some of these references are curious. And I went and you know, the Encyclopedia Britannica has a whole thing on this. The references in this song. I encourage you to look at it because some of them are kind of puzzling. Sergey Prokofiev, beloved 20th century Russian composer. Arturo Toscanini, a beloved 20th century conductor who his fame really grew in America actually. Albert Einstein, James Dean. I could go on. There are names in there that aren’t, like, bad. So how did they start a fire? I’m confused as to the synaptic connections there. Maybe I’m overthinking this.

Kimberly Adams 

I love it though. So, we’ll have to link that in the show notes. You have to share that link, Nova, so I can go and look at it but while we look for that, that is going to be it for us today. Kai and I are going to be back tomorrow. So, until then send your thoughts, questions, comments, song lyrics we should delve into, or perhaps an audio you think we should talk about to makemesmart@marketplace.org. Or you can leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART. Make Me Smart is produced by Courtney Bergsieker. Ellen Rolfes writes our newsletter. Today’s program was engineered by the amazing Juan Carlos Torrado. And Thalia Menchaca is our intern.

Nova Safo 

Ben Tolliday and Daniel Ramirez composed our theme music. Our senior producer is Marissa Cabrera. Bridget Bodnar is the director of podcasts. Francesca Levy is the executive director of Digital. And we’re us, right?

Kimberly Adams 

Yes. Yes. Is the song stuck in your head like forever now?

Nova Safo 

No, not really.

None of us is as smart as all of us.

No matter how bananapants your day is, “Make Me Smart” is here to help you through it all— 5 days a week.

It’s never just a one-way conversation. Your questions, reactions, and donations are a vital part of the show. And we’re grateful for every single one.

Donate any amount to become a Marketplace Investor and help make us smarter (and make us smile!) every day.

The team

Marissa Cabrera Senior Producer
Courtney Bergsieker Associate Producer