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Durbin, Duckworth warn Rivian and other automakers not to block unionizing efforts

Two men in suits
Sen. Dick Durbin
Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe, left, meets with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois in 2023.

Illinois' two U.S. senators are warning Rivian and other nonunion automakers not to interfere with unionizing efforts at their plants.

Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and 26 of their Democratic colleagues in the Senate sent a letter to Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe and the heads of 12 other automakers. They "strongly urge" the automakers to stay neutral on workers' efforts to unionize and to negotiate in good faith if workers decide to organize.

“We are concerned by reporting at numerous automakers that management has acted illegally to block unionization efforts,” the letter said, citing examples of what the lawmakers call illegal union blocking efforts at Hyundai, Tesla and Volkswagen.

For example, the letter noted the National Labor Relations Board found Telsa managers used online harassment, employee interrogations and firings to retaliate against workers who sought to unionize.

“These retaliatory actions are hostile to workers’ rights and must not be repeated if further organizing efforts are made by these companies’ workers,” the letter continued. “All workers, no matter what states they live in, should have a free and unhindered opportunity to join a union."

The lawmakers said thousands of nonunion autoworkers are publicly organizing to join the United Auto Workers (UAW) after the union secured lucrative deals for their members following their strike against the Big Three automakers: Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.

"It’s time for the auto companies to stop breaking the law and take their boot off the neck of the American autoworker, whether they’re at Volkswagen, Toyota, Tesla, or any other corporation doing business in this country,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a statement.

The UAW and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) unions have both started organizing efforts at Rivian.

Durbin said he told Scaringe during a meeting in Washington, D.C., last September that Rivian should support workers’ efforts to unionize.

The electric vehicle company has become Bloomington-Normal's second-largest employer, with more than 8,000 workers.

A spokesperson for Rivian declined to comment on the letter.

Eric Stock is WGLT (Bloomington-Normal public radio) News Director.
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