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Labor unions have failed to take root in northern Indiana’s RV industry work force largely because of that sector’s high wages, a tendency for workers to switch companies and overall job security, according to a Sept. 1 article in the Elkhart Truth.
In fact, Larry Banghart, international staff representative for the United Auto Workers and a UAW member for 39 years, told the Truth that union organizers have had to “struggle” to enlist laborers from this sector.
“The biggest problem is the people tend to move from job to job quite a bit,” he said. “If they can move down the road and make a little more money, they go.
As a result, he added, some of the union’s strongest supporters aren’t always around to cast crucial votes in the union’s certification election.
As for wages, the average weekly wage for RV workers ($852) trails only chemical manufacturing ($1,125), miscellaneous manufacturing ($1,063) and machinery manufacturing ($956) in Indiana, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development reports.
“I think those industries have been strong enough that they have had to compete for workers and offer incentives to make a good working environment,” Kyle Hannon, public policy manager for the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, told the newspaper.
The article pointed to Coachmen Industries Inc. as an example. Benefits for employees of the Elkhart-based manufacturer include health insurance, dental and vision insurance, 401(K) plans and paid holidays to help retain employees and create a sense of family, Truth staffer Steve Bibler points out.
Also working against unions, according to Hannon, is culture and the fact that some of the communities working in the RV industry, such as the Amish, come from non-union traditions. Al Hesselbart, a local historian of the RV and manufactured housing industry, noted that the family ownership in the industry also has hampered unionization.
“I know of several attempts to unionize some of these big companies that failed because of the relationship of the employees to the principal family leader,” he said.
Banghart, however, cautioned that companies shouldn’t discount the appeal of organized labor.
“I truly believe organized labor is on the climb. We’re on the way back, especially in times of downturn like we have now,” he told the newspaper.