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Georgia Unions, Small Businesses Join to Bring Jobs Home

By Tula Connell

Stephen Harmsen was busy with a customer at his auto repair shop on a hot July day in Hapeville, Ga., when two guys came in and asked him if he’d put up a sign in his window. After he took a look at the sign’s message, America Wants to Work: Good Jobs Now, it was a no brainer.

The two guys—Jimmy Hyde, who heads up the UAW’s Global Organizing Institute in Atlanta, and institute intern Ron Allen—talked with Harmsen and other business owners up and down Hapeville’s main artery as part of the union movement’s nationwide Bring Jobs Home campaign

“The more workers we have, the more people pay taxes, the better off we all are,” said Harmsen, the 32-year owner of Virginia Avenue Service Center, which is now one of more than a dozen shops along the Atlanta suburb’s busy North Central Avenue to display an America Wants to Work sign.

In cities and towns across the country, union members are joining with community partners like small business owners who know everyone will benefit from creating family-supporting jobs and returning offshored jobs back to this nation. Throughout the summer, workers and their unions have held hundreds of actions, town halls and one-on-one discussions, expanding or creating partnerships in neighborhoods and working with faith, low-income and business groups to build ladders to the middle class for all working people.

Charlita Varner

Over and over, said Allen, local restaurant owners and convenience store managers told him, “If workers make more money, I can do more business.” The connection between well-paid workers and a thriving community is especially clear in Hapeville, where a Ford plant shut down a few years back, throwing 3,000 employees out of work.

“Ford left the community a little bit in need of having more jobs here,” said Charlita Varner, owner of Buttersweet Bakery, which is down the street from Virginia Avenue Service Center. “I’m sure other businesses coming in would be a great boost to the community. We need more businesses here.” Hapeville, a suburb where wealthy Atlantans once bought summer homes in the early 20th century, now is a working-class community on the fringes of the busy Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Home prices in Hapeville start at $32,000.

Varner, whose key lime cupcake recipe is featured in Bon Appetit’s most recent cookbook—and whose bakery now proudly displays an America Wants to Work sign—also wants to see jobs returned to the United States.

“Every chance I get, I like to buy American. It would be great if more companies came back.”

“When we talk about bringing jobs back from overseas, it really resonates with people,” said Georgia State AFL-CIO Communications Director DeLane Adams.  Having seeded the union outreach effort among small business owners, the UAW Global Organizing Institute’s Allen is determined to expand the outreach.

At 37, Allen brims with the enthusiasm of a 20-year-old. He gave up a career in the corporate world to become a hands-on activist because he loves empowering people. After sharing his experience talking with business owners at a recent Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council meeting, union members walked away with America Wants to Work signs, ready to talk with business owners in their area and build more partnerships around the mutual understanding that work connects us all.

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