Workers at Troy Toyota launch campaign to join the UAW

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On-the-job injuries, low wages are driving force

WORKERS AT THE TOYOTA plant in Troy, Mo., have launched a campaign to join the United Auto Workers. So far, more than 30 percent of the workers have signed union authorization cards.

BY SHERI GASSAWAY
Assistant Editor

Troy, MO – Dawn Ellis, a worker at the Toyota plant here, has been injured twice while on the job. Fed up, she and several of her coworkers are now seeking to unionize with the United Auto Workers (UAW) for good, safe jobs.

Ellis tore her rotator cuff, which is a common injury at the plant, according to the UAW. She had surgery on a Friday, and in a routine practice, was ordered to report to work the following Monday. In a separate injury, she suffered a fractured skull and has struggled with migraine headaches ever since.

Another Toyota worker, Kassie Albertson, told the Labor Tribune he’s been dealing with rotator cuff issues for two years. He said he went to the company’s workmen’s compensation doctor, who stated that there was nothing wrong. He says he is also experiencing symptoms of carpel tunnel in both wrists.

‘WORN DOWN’
“After 10 years on the job, my body is getting worn down,” Albertson said. “We’re seeking to unionize for a safe shop and better wages, benefits and a retirement plan. We need to do something to reduce the high turnover rate and provide incentives to the employees to stay at the plant.”

In a new video, “We Keep Toyota Running,” workers at the plant – which makes the cylinder heads for every Toyota engine made in North America – describe the toll of the work on their bodies. They talk about the 10- to 12-hour long days working in a plant that is over 100 degrees in the summer at a pace that’s just not safe.

‘FIX WHAT’S WRONG, WIN PROTECTIONS’
And workers say it’s not just the pace of the work that’s dangerous. Jaye Hochuli, a team leader at the plant, says the plant had her crawl under a deck to clean out the sand, silica dust and chemicals that come out of the machines.

“It was a confined space,” she said. “I should’ve been in a respirator and a hazmat suit. All they gave me was a KN-95 mask. How can the richest car company in the world not follow basic safety practices? We’re organizing to fix what’s wrong and win the protections we need.”

Troy Toyota is the first Toyota plant and the fourth non-union plant nationwide where workers have gone public with their campaign to join the UAW. More than 30 percent of the workers there have signed union authorization cards.

RECORD BIG THREE CONTRACTS
Last year, after a series of rolling, nationwide strikes at Big Three auto makers, the UAW won record contracts for those workers that included 25 percent raises over a four-year agreement and the reinstatement of cost-of-living adjustments among other victories.

Shortly afterward, the UAW announced that it was starting a large-scale effort to unionize non-union auto workers at 13 companies, which are made up of about 150,000 workers.

“When we return to the bargaining table in 2028, it won’t just be with the Big Three, but with the Big Five or Big Six,” UAW President Shawn Fain said at the time.

UAW BUMP
After the record-breaking Big There contracts were approved in November, Toyota and several other non-union auto makers responded by bumping up pay for their workers. Toyota raised pay by nine percent. However, Toyota workers still make over $4 less an hour than their UAW counterparts.

“Seeing the new contracts with the Big Three, that’s when I realized we needed a union,” said Charles Lashley, a team member in support. “It was incredible that UAW members could bargain for those benefits and that pay. I don’t see why we should be paid differently. Toyota makes more money than all the Big Three. So there’s no reason why we should be so far behind.”

TOYOTA DOWNPLAYING ISSUES
Ed Helwig, a Toyota spokesperson, told the Missouri Independent that the comments and views in the announcement by the UAW “do not reflect the overwhelming majority of our team members and much of it is misleading and inaccurate.”

“At Toyota, team member safety is the top priority,” he said. “Our safety record at our North American operations is among the best in the industry. Over the last four years, our North American manufacturing total incident rate has been reduced considerably.”

NATIONAL MOVEMENT
The UAW announcement marks the latest major breakthrough in the national movement of non-union autoworkers organizing to join the UAW in the wake of the historic Stand Up Strike victory at the Big Three auto companies. Over 10,000 non-union autoworkers have signed union cards in recent months with public campaigns launched at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn., Mercedes in Vance, Ala., and Hyundai in Montgomery, Ala., while workers at over two dozen other facilities continue to organize.

The UAW video announcing the campaign can be viewed at https://rb.gy/le6mrj.


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