Top Labor Organizer: The South Is Not Lost, We Will Help N.C. Tobacco Workers

Updated with a quote from the president of the International Association of Machinists, which represents workers at Philip Morris.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (TheStreet) -- The labor movement, undeterred by the UAW's defeat at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., is continuing efforts to organize in the South, particularly in North Carolina, where the Farm Labor Organizing Committee plans a spring campaign to organize tobacco field workers.

"We're supporting significant efforts by affiliates to organize throughout the South, workers in all sectors and occupations," said Elizabeth Bunn, director of organizing for the AFL-CIO, in an interview. In particular, she said, "You will see, in the coming months, unions with more resources helping the poorest of the poor, the tobacco workers in North Carolina."

Early this week the executive council of the AFL-CIO met in Houston, where the failed Chattanooga election was an overriding topic. Bunn said the most unusual aspect of the election was that while unions frequently encounter opposition and threats from employers, "in this case the employer was very respectful but outside folks intervened, not just with opinions, but with threats."

Not to say the failure had a bright side, but "there is no question that the events in Chattanooga will help shed a light on what workers confront when they try to form a union," Bunn said.

She said organizing efforts continue in the South among both private and public sector employees. National Nurses United has organized 7,000 workers in the South, largely in Texas. The Service Employees International Union, although not an AFL-CIO member, is growing in the South and elsewhere, largely by organizing health care workers.

Also, the merger between American (AAL)  and US Airways brings together Dallas-based American's 6,000 passenger service agents, who are not unionized, and US Airways' 6,600 airport agents and passenger service agents, who are members of the Airline Customer Service Employee Association, an alliance between the CWA and the Teamsters.

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