Alabama Workers Define Courage in Organizing Win
Pictured here after the final votes were counted is (from left, front row) Intl. Rep. David Woods, Randy Williams, George Key, Tony Sanders, L. 42 Bus. Agt. Zach Townsend and L. 149 Pres./GEB member Letitia Malone, (from left, back row) Vanessa Corbitt, Allan Wright, Joseph Dickens and Phyllis Dickens.
It was the unwavering strength and courage of 80 workers at a peanut shelling plant in Alabama that prevailed in their fight for dignity and respect through BCTGM representation.
Harassment, favoritism, prejudice and unfair work rules were what workers were forced to tolerate regularly from management at the Golden Peanut plant in Headland, Ala.
The facility, owned by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), is a shelling plant for Runner peanuts, as well as a hull and fiber processing plant. Workers at the plant work in the production, maintenance, quality control and shipping departments.
“These workers were fearless to the end,” reflects BCTGM International Representative David Woods, who led the workers’ efforts to organize. “This is really a story of human dignity. These are hardworking folks who were sick and tired of being treated poorly.”
The workers were also aided by new union election rules implemented by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on April 14. Thanks to an expedited union election process, on May 19 the workers voted overwhelmingly to become members of BCTGM Local 42 (Atlanta).
BCTGM International Director of Organization John Price notes that this was the BCTGM’s first union election under the new NLRB rules. The rules set forth an “accelerated election” process, speeding up the time between the filing of a representation petition and the union election.
After learning that the BCTGM represents thousands of ADM workers in locations around the country, workers reached out to BCTGM Local 42 (Atlanta) Business Manager Zach Townsend. Through a series of phone calls with Townsend, workers detailed the working conditions at Golden Peanut and the reasons why they needed a union.
“They were desperate for help. These people were so sincere about what they wanted and how hard they were willing to work to have a union,” recalls Townsend, who worked extensively on the campaign.
“These are good, hardworking people who take great pride in the jobs they do but who have been discriminated against and disrespected in every way imaginable,” Townsend reflects.
BCTGM Southern Region Vice President James Rivers, Price and Woods joined Townsend in Headland and the campaign escalated quickly. Local 149 (Memphis) President and International General Executive Board member Letitia Malone also assisted with the campaign.
“It was just a flood of interest and emotion,” recalls Woods. “Workers who wanted to help started showing up or contacting me directly. The first week I was in town, 25 workers came to sign union cards,” he adds.
On April 29, Woods filed for the election and it was scheduled for 20 days later. “The company wanted a later election date to wear workers out. But they weren’t successful and the union’s request was granted and the election was set.”
According to Price, the new election rules do work to cut down on the time companies have to intimidate workers. “The beautiful thing with this campaign is that the organizers filed as soon as they knew they had the majority of workers on board – giving the company less time to run its anti-union campaign. By the time they knew the date of the election, management could only hold two captive meetings. They ran out of time to manipulate and lie to the workers,” says Price.
However, the anti-union campaign intensified in those 20 days before the workers voted, said Woods. “But they were well prepared for the company’s tactics and they had the courage to stand up and take them on. They stood strong together – even when they knew it may cost them their jobs. They wanted change so badly that they risked it all,” adds Woods.
The excitement never subsided. On the day and night of the union representation vote, workers steadily came to vote, to watch their co-workers vote and wait for news of the victory that they were confident they would have.
Randy Williams, a machine operator, says that the night of the election he, “felt like it was a new beginning sent from God to all the employees at Golden Peanut.”
“They stayed strong together and were so appreciative to the BCTGM. It was never about the money — and they had so little. This was a fight for respect and decency. They fought for one another and never backed down,” concludes Townsend.
Allen Wright, a maintenance worker, reflected on the unity of the Golden Peanut workers saying, “Thank you Lord for teaching us and allowing us to unify against oppression to bring about a positive change in our workplace.”
And machine operator George Key was thankful to have met the BCTGM organizers and thanked everyone who helped the workers in their fight for dignity and respect, saying, “Thank God for the BCTGM!”