Moog Music in Asheville are seeking to unionize, and those leading the effort say an election is forthcoming.
Moog, headquartered in downtown Asheville, is well known for making electronic music synthesizers. Robert Moog invented his famed synthesizer in 1964 and moved his operations from New York to Western North Carolina in 1978.
On June 1, pro-union Moog workers announced their intentions to organize, saying in a news release they hoped to “address unlivable low wages, achieve a voice in the company, and gain just-cause employment protections.”
Starting wages for assemblers, packers, and warehouse workers is $14.10 an hour.
In 2015, Moog Music CEO Mike Adams sold 49% of the company to employees. This created an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP, which serves as an additional retirement plan for workers. The company even refers to workers as “Employee-Owners,” but some workers believe this ownership stake should offer them more influence over how the company operates.
“Workers don’t have any material control over our working conditions, and that’s what we’re organizing for,” said Nathan Hanner, 25, a product validator.
Pro-union employees hope to join International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 238, which represents 13 workforces in Asheville.
“Moog synthesizers are internationally known,” said Chris McGlashan, an organizer with IBEW Local 238. “And they advertise as being made in Asheville, North Carolina, but not everybody who works there makes a living wage.”
McGlashan alleged Moog has brought on an anti-union law firm to help dissuade employees against the union.
Moog Music spokesperson Michelle Tremblay told the Citizen Times that Moog “hired outside resources” to help the company navigate a union campaign legally.
She added, “While we don’t believe a union is in the best interests of our employee-owners, we will ensure that everyone at the factory has access to accurate information about unions and what a union would mean at Moog so that our Employee -Owners may make their own informed decisions.”
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‘We’re almost where we want to be’
The first official step toward forming a union is the collecting of union authorization cards.
If 30% of Moog workers fill out cards in favor of unionizing, IBEW Local 238 can request an election through the National Labor Relations Board on the workers’ behalf. McGlashan said “way above 30%” of Moog workers have signed authorization cards, but he is waiting for more support before triggering an election.
A union is approved if most voters in the election vote yes. Obtaining enough signatures to have an election doesn’t mean there’s enough support to win the election. This is a distinction baked into the IBEW Local’s approach.
“We’re almost where we want to be,” McGlashan said, though he declined to say what level of support would make the union comfortable calling an election.
McGlashan said the Moog campaign is moving at more deliberate pace than the failed effort in May to organize the Charlotte Street Starbucks store. The final count in that election was 11 no-votes and six yes-votes.
“They kind of rushed into that one,” he said, noting organizers called for an election soon after 30% of authorization cards were signed.
North Carolina is one of the least-unionized states in the country. Last year, North Carolina had the second-lowest unionization rate of any state, with 2.6% of workers belonging to a union. Only South Carolina ranked lower.
State law doesn’t favor union participation. The two Carolinas are the only states to prohibit public-sector employees from collectively bargaining, and North Carolina is also one of 28 right-to-work states, meaning employees aren’t required to join a union or pay union dues even when a union their workforce. This can financially weaken unions and make them less attractive to workers.
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The union movement in North Carolina notched a major victory in September 2020 when 1,600 nurses at Asheville’s Mission Hospital voted to form the largest new union at a southern hospital in decades. But this win hasn’t yet rippled to other Asheville-area businesses, as only a handful of local workforces have since filed for union elections.
Brian Gordon is a statewide reporter with the USA Today Network in North Carolina. Feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @skyoutbriout