Greenbrier Workers Join Neb. IBEW
June 18, 2014
|Greenbrier Rail Service workers in Nebraska voted to join the IBEW June 4
Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user Jim & Valerie’s Family
Manufacturing workers at Greenbrier Rail Service in Hershey, Neb., are the newest members of the IBEW family after voting to join North Platte Local 1920.
The factory, which employs approximately 30 workers, produces wheel and axle sets for freight trains.
This is a unique victory for Local 1920 which, as a railroad local, has never organized outside the major rail carriers, which are largely unionized already.
But, as Local 1920 Chairman Mike Thiessen says, “organizing is in [the IBEW’s] blood,” so the local didn’t turn down the chance to help Greenbrier workers win a voice on the job.
He found out about problems at the plant earlier this year through a friend who knew a Greenbrier employee.
The friend invited the worker and Thiessen to dinner, where they talked about ongoing issues with management and what a union contract could do to improve things.
“It sounded like conditions there were pretty rough,” Thiessen said. “There wasn’t a lot of respect.”
One of the worst examples was a text message management sent out to all employees on a Friday night, threatening to “kick their ass” if employees didn’t meet the plant’s goals the next day.
Wages were stagnant, with the average starting salary dipping below $13 per hour, and numerous broken promises of promotions and raises were dampening morale. “Employees were told they could work their way to up to the top pay grade, but the company stopped promoting people, even if they had the experience,” Thiessen said.
The Greenbrier worker put Thiessen in touch with a couple of co-workers, and they established a volunteer organizing committee.
Within two weeks, approximately 70 percent of workers had signed cards.
Lincoln County is home to Bailey Yard, the world’s largest railroad classification yard, which employs thousands of union members. International Lead Organizer Louis Spencer says those members provided strong support for Greenbrier employees during the campaign.
“This is a union area,” he said. “Everyone at the plant knew at least one member, and that convinced many of them that joining the IBEW was the right thing to do.”
Thiessen and Spencer reviewed with employees every possible anti-union argument the company might make, warning them about closed-door meetings and other anti-union tactics by the employer.
Prepping them beforehand boosted workers’ confidence and resolve, Spencer said.
“We basically inoculated them against anti-union propaganda,” he said.
Negotiations are underway for a first contract.
“This is tremendous for the IBEW,” said Local 1920 Business Manager Patrick Smith of the June 4 win. “I hope this victory will show the way for other manufacturing facilities.”