New service union seeks to inspire labor movement in South

Mariah Parker, a worker from Atlanta, speaks at the Levi C. Chavous Conference Center in...
Mariah Parker, a worker from Atlanta, speaks at the Levi C. Chavous Conference Center in Columbia, S.C., on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022.((AP Photo/James Pollard))
Published: Nov. 19, 2022 at 2:15 PM EST
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(AP) - Over 100 service industry workers gathered Friday in the capital of South Carolina, the state with the country’s lowest unionization rate, to launch a new union and in turn try to boost labor organizing across the South.

The Union of Southern Service Workers hopes to win remedies for what it sees as a common set of grievances across a region historically hostile to unions. Its members cut a broad swath across the service industry, working in places like fast food chains, retail stores, warehouses and nursing homes.

“We are all service workers, no matter what industry you’re coming through,” said Eshawney Gaston, a Captain D’s employee in Durham, North Carolina who helped plan the union’s launch in Columbia. “We have to stand up for each other.”

Gaston, a 25-year-old mother, said she has faced the same issues at multiple service-industry jobs, including wage theft, poor personal protective equipment and dangerous heat, among others. The problem is greater than any single company and requires a more widespread effort, she said.

Friday’s launch comes amid the highest American approval for unions registered by a Gallup poll since 1965 and at the end of a week teeming with labor organizing activity.