Defying the South’s Corporate Lackeys

USW Blogger
4 min readFeb 26, 2024


By David McCall
USW International President

Tanya Gaines and her co-workers launched a union drive 10 years ago because it was the only way to win livable wages, fair treatment and safe working conditions at the Golden Dragon copper tube manufacturing plant in Pine Hill, Ala., one of the state’s poorest areas.

Workers anticipated management’s opposition, but they felt blindsided when Alabama’s Republican governor at the time, Robert Bentley, also came out against the organizing drive and wrote a letter demanding they vote against the union.

Gaines and her colleagues stood up to Bentley’s bullying, joined the United Steelworkers (USW) and began building better lives.

More and more workers across the South seek the same path forward that union membership provides. But they’re still forced to defy Republican officials who’d rather toady to wealthy corporations than support workers’ fight for a fair economy.

Getty Images

Autoworkers in Alabama, for example, vowed to stay the course last month after the state’s current governor, Republican Kay Ivey, publicly rebuked their efforts to unionize a Mercedes-Benz plant.

Equally furious USW members and other workers in South Carolina demanded that Republican Gov. Henry McMaster correct course after he bragged during his state of the state address last month that he’d oppose unions “to the gates of hell.”

Unionizing is entirely the workers’ choice, a right guaranteed under federal law. And yet Ivey and McMaster stuck their noses where they didn’t belong, just like Bentley did with the workers at Golden Dragon in 2014.

“It was like a slap in the face,” Gaines, who grew up in a union family and learned the power of solidarity at a young age, said of Bentley’s interference.

“We’re here on site, doing the job. He had no idea of the problem it was to work here,” she added, recalling the exploitation that workers faced. “We need a voice. This is our voice.”

Gaines said she and her co-workers continue battling Golden Dragon over safety and other issues — a fight she can’t imagine waging without the protections and resources the USW provides.

“They know better,” Gaines, vice president of USW Local 00176, said of company bosses. “They just don’t do better.”

When workers begin organizing, companies regularly go on the attack.

Employers squander hundreds of millions of dollars every year on anti-union consultants and force workers into captive audience meetings where they disparage organized labor and threaten union supporters. Companies flood workers’ social media and cell phones with anti-union propaganda. They post anti-union messages and videos throughout workplaces, even in restrooms.

Instead of standing up for workers who face these kinds of abuses, Republicans in the South pile on.

Just a few weeks ago, Georgia’s Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill aimed at creating additional obstacles for workers seeking to unionize. Among other restrictions, the bill — championed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp — threatens to withhold state grants and other resources from forward-thinking companies that would prefer to voluntarily recognize unions instead of forcing workers to go through an additional drawn-out election process.

Meddling by elected officials helps to explain historically low union membership in the South. But now, not even desperate measures like the Georgia bill can stem the wave of workers forming unions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re seeing what the union has to offer. They’re seeing some of the advantages of being in the union,” said Reggie Thomas, president of USW Local 572, which represents hundreds of workers at Graphic Packaging in Macon, Ga.

Thomas traveled to nearby Fort Valley, Ga., last year for rallies supporting the union drive at Blue Bird Corp. When 1,400 workers at the bus company voted overwhelmingly to join the USW, he said that victory sent a message to others throughout the South: “If the workers at Blue Bird can do it, I can, too.”

USW photo

As workers empower themselves, they also build a stronger economy and healthier communities.

USW members and their counterparts in other unions advocated for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which unleashed $1.2 trillion for upgrades to transportation, communications and energy systems nationwide.

Republican officials — including Ivey, McMaster and Kemp, hypocritically welcomed these investments while attacking the union workers who helped to bring the money home.

“Beware the messenger before you listen to the message,” William “Bump” Roddey, a member of USW Local 1924, said of Republicans’ anti-worker scheming.

“Look at where some of the big donations come from,” said Roddey, who works at the New-Indy mill in Catawba, S.C., and serves on York County Council. “They come from CEOs, the people who have a vested interest in keeping wages low.”

While career politicians like McMaster have no problem making ends meet, that isn’t the case for average South Carolinians applying for jobs at New-Indy.

Roddey said new hires, many of them first-time union members, marvel at the life-changing wages, workplace safety measures and work-life balance, among other benefits their USW contract provides.

“It’s an eye-opening experience,” said Roddey, who often hears new union members make remarks like, “I didn’t have that at my last job. I didn’t have that opportunity.”

And when these workers tell others about what the union does for them, support for labor only snowballs in spite of Republicans’ plotting.

“The other side can’t define us,” Roddey said. “People are looking to make their lives better, and it can only come through the union, because the job pays your mortgage, pays your rent, pays your light bill, feeds your family. Unions are the backbone of the economy.”