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Alabama Arise report urges wage and working condition reforms for autoworkers

The auto industry employs over 44,000 individuals. But the report underscores a pressing need for reform.

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A new report from Alabama Arise,  highlights significant issues in the state’s auto manufacturing industry. Released on Thursday, the report, titled “The State of Working Alabama 2023,” paints a concerning picture of declining wages, racial, gender, and geographic pay disparities, despite the industry receiving over $1.6 billion in public incentives since 1993.

The auto industry, an outstanding part of Alabama’s economy, employs over 44,000 individuals and offers average wages higher than many other sectors in the state. However, the report underscores a pressing need for reform. It outlines several key recommendations, including strengthening wage, benefit, and accountability standards for state and local subsidies, increasing investments in education and workforce training, and addressing wage disparities across race, gender, and state lines.

Significantly, the report found that inflation-adjusted average wages for Alabama autoworkers in 2019 were 11 percent lower than in 2002. This decline contrasts with wage increases in other manufacturing sectors and overall in Alabama. The economic ripple effect of this wage decrease is substantial, costing the state jobs, labor income, and GDP growth.

Racial and gender pay gaps are also stark. For instance, Black and Hispanic autoworkers earn notably less than their white counterparts, and women in the industry earn just 73 cents for every dollar men earn. The report suggests that underrepresentation of women and people of color in high-wage occupations within the industry is a key factor in these disparities.

Alabama Arise’s worker policy advocate and report co-author, Dev Wakeley, emphasizes the collaborative effort required from policymakers, employers, workers, unions, and community partners to revitalize the auto industry and, by extension, the state’s economy. Wakeley advocates for a comprehensive approach, including targeted hiring, training, improved scheduling, and enhanced child care availability and affordability.

In addition to wage reforms, the report calls for improved working conditions. Interviews with autoworkers revealed concerns about promotion practices, disciplinary actions, and pay rate changes. Recommendations include abolishing tiered wage systems, implementing industry-standard workplace protections, and pursuing community benefits agreements.

As the report succinctly puts it, Alabama’s significant investment in its auto industry should yield maximum benefits for the state, necessitating an inclusive and prosperous economy that uplifts every Alabamian. The proposed reforms aim to ensure that the auto industry’s growth aligns with the wellbeing and equity of its workforce.

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This is part of a larger study from Alabama Arise’s new report, The State of Working Alabama 2023 – A Wheel in the Ditch: A Closer Look at Alabama’s Big Bet on the Auto Manufacturing Industry, is available here. A downloadable PDF of the report is available here.

Alabama Arise is a statewide, member-led nonprofit organization advancing public policies to improve the lives of Alabamians who are marginalized by poverty. Arise’s membership includes faith-based, community, nonprofit and civic groups, grassroots leaders and individuals from across Alabama.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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