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Published: Friday, 9/17/2004

Deal reached in state seen as union-averse

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

The three-way labor agreement signed yesterday in North Carolina with Mt. Olive Pickle Co. Inc., brokered by Toledo's Farm Labor Organizing Committee, was hailed as an "historic" pact in a state long adverse to unions.

"North Carolina traditionally has been very hostile towards organized labor," said David Mills, executive director of Common Sense, a liberal think tank in Raleigh, N.C.

"This contract is historic in the sense that it could mean a turning of the corner for labor in North Carolina."

But Walter Wessels, a professor of labor economics at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, said he thinks migrant farm workers was an odd group to unionize because their numbers can fluctuate so easily.

"I'm not sure how important this whole thing will be because I can't imagine they're collecting that many dues," he said.

The agreement provides for dues collection by farmers who participate in the contract, and in return, those growers will receive a price increase for their crop from Mt. Olive. No union dues has been collected, as the agreement was just signed.

North Carolina is one of 22 states in the country that are Right To Work states, meaning workers at a company that is unionized can choose whether they want to join the union and pay dues.

James Andrews, president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO in Raleigh, estimated he has 110,000 to 115,000 union members in 260 local unions, or about 3 percent of the state's 4 million workers.

That puts North Carolina dead-last on the list of states with the most union membership. That makes the signing of the Mt. Olive contract and the estimated 8,000 new members it could bring, "a huge deal," he said.

"I don't think there will be mass organization or even increased organizing, but it certainly should give courage to workers who want to join a union," Mr. Andrews said.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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