One of the principal calling cards most Sunbelt states hold out in bidding for new industry is "reliable labor." That is a not-too-secret code word for nonunion labor.
The South is the least unionized region of the nation. but that is slowly changing. Latest sign of this gradual but steady change is the agreement just reached between some of the North Carolina mills of J. P. Stevens & Co., the nation's second-largest textile manufacturer, and the Amalgamated Clothing Textile Workers Union (ACTWU).
The agreement reportedly calls for Stevens to provide back pay for Roanoke Rapids workers, who were passed over when two pay increases were granted workers at nonunion Stevens plants. Union workers, in effect, would be getting a 19.3 percent raise. The agreement is also said to include a union is also said to include a union dues checkoff on paychecks and an arbitration clause.
If ratified, the contract would go into effect Oct. 20 at seven Roanoke Rapids plants and unionized Stevens mills in High Point and Allendale, S.C., and in Montgomery, Ala.
Union negotiator Clyde Bush hails it as "one of the greatest victories that organized labor has ever had in the South." It represents a milestone in one of the most protracted union struggles in recent decades, coming six years after the union won an organizing election in the J. P. Stevens mills in Roanoke, N.C.
Stevens has been found guilty of violating federal labor laws 22 times in its often bitter fight with the ACTWU.
Through the union-company contact, if accepted by the workers in Roanoke, will be a model for workers at the other Stevens mills, long negotiations can be expected.
The South is unionizing now at about the same rate as the rest of the nation.