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Strength in Numbers: Organizing in the South

Headshot of Salvador Herrera in front of a white wall featuring his union, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, logo.

Ahead of Labor Day, Secretary Marty Walsh and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler hosted a virtual roundtable on collective bargaining and organizing in America. We asked Salvador Herrera, a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, to share his experience with organizing and how their union has supported them.
 

What is inspiring workers to organize in the South?  

The South has primarily been a place where working people have been forgotten and marginalized. People are tired of irresponsible contractors and are taking a stand to demand dignity and respect at work. The South is where workers are paid some of the lowest wages and can face dangerous working conditions. In my home state of Texas, I’ve seen how construction workers may work in unsafe conditions and are sometimes not given basic necessities such as water or rest breaks at work. Workers are tired of being exploited and are taking collective action to win better working conditions.  

What has your experience with organizing and collective bargaining been like?  

Collective bargaining is the best way to fight back against race-to-the-bottom tactics that irresponsible contractors in the construction industry may use to maximize their profits. Wage theft and misclassification are major issues in the construction industry and among the trades. Misclassified workers do not get paid overtime for hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek and often find themselves to be victims of wage theft. Other issues are unliveable low wages, a lack of safety training and a lack of critical benefits like paid leave. Being a union member and collective bargaining are the best remedies to the issues workers face on a daily basis. When we stand together we can demand better conditions and benefits.  

How has your union supported you? 

The IUPAT has made a firm commitment to organizing and standing with non-union workers who want to better their working conditions. We currently have a campaign called “Exploitation Free Zones” that focuses on uplifting construction standards in the public sector, specifically schools. Within the construction of public projects, we have seen wage theft, Fair Labor Standards Act violations and a failure to pay prevailing wages. These campaigns are worker driven and we are pushing for public entities and developers to hold irresponsible contractors accountable. We fight with all workers who want to better their working conditions.

Over 60 million Americans say they would join a union if they could. What would you say to someone who asked you about whether they should organize a union at their workplace?

I believe organizing a union is the only way to have a voice at work. As workers we do the work and by standing with our coworkers we can collectively bargain for the pay, benefits and conditions we need to live a dignified life. Economic inequality has worsened in America. It has become harder to support a family off a 40-hour workweek. CEOs and bosses are becoming wealthy off the backs of working people. The best way to ensure that we are treated with respect is by fighting to form a union in our workplace. 

 

Editor’s note: You can contact the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration online or by calling 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA) to report emergencies, unsafe working conditions, safety and health violations, as well as to file a complaint or to ask safety and health questions. For wage and hour questions, contact the department’s Wage and Hour Division online or by calling 1-866-4-USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).

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