The 75 service workers employed by Republic Parking, the company that runs several parking lots scattered throughout Ann Arbor, recently voted by a 48 to 11 margin to unionize, according to Teamsters Local 243 organizer Jim St. Louis. Workers have cited what they perceive as unfair management practices and a lack of job security as their primary motives for organizing. They also said that pay has been a concern.
It should be a priority in a progressive city such as Ann Arbor that the right to unionize remains intact. As the United States economy shifts away from the manufacturing sector, it is important that service industry workers are well represented by unions. As the older, more traditional unions in the Detroit area decrease in influence and political power, it is important that these service industry-oriented unions representing service industry workers, such as the employees of Republic Parking, work to ensure that employers treat and pay their workers fairly.
Because the Downtown Development Authority, a creation of the city of Ann Arbor, contracted out the job of running city parking lots to Republic Parking and not the city itself, Republic Parking is not required to pay its employees the living wage. The Ann Arbor living wage ordinance states that employers must pay their employees $10.20 an hour if they are not providing benefits as well.
It is encouraging that the workers of Republic Parking sought to exercise their right to unionize and were successful in doing so. Worker protections have been an important tenet of American ideology since the Progressive Era. As the United States’ economy evolves away from heavy industry, it will be important for other workers to follow the lead of the employees of Republic Parking and help unions adjust to the new economic realities in this country.
Ann Arbor can serve as an example for retail and service industry employees throughout the state and nation. It is promising that the Teamsters have taken a lead advancing the rights of service workers, a growing segment of the United States’ labor force. Despite the high number of service industry employees, most of these workers make little money, enjoy few benefits and lack collective bargaining power in their relationship with management. The unionization drives that are now taking place across the country are the first step to correcting this historical injustice.