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Endangered Species: Last UAW President at Ford's Norfolk Plant Steps Down

June 2, 2008

Norfolk, VA - It's the end of an era. For the first time in more than 60 years, there's no UAW president at the Norfolk Ford assembly plant. Local 919 president Chris Kimmons has closed his office, after spending the past year shepherding workers toward new jobs following the plant's closure a year ago.

Kimmons says job losses in the auto industry mirror what's going on in other industries across the country. He wants the government to join unions in standing up for middle-class working families.

"We're trapped in a centrifugal force and we just keep going around and around, like spinning the bottle. The only ones with the ability to stop that momentum are in Washington, D.C. Until legislators start passing better laws to help protect the American worker, it won't stop."

Kimmons says the plant closed as part of the trend that's shipping good-paying manufacturing jobs overseas. Approximately 1,000 workers at the state's last auto assembly plant in Dublin are the latest to lose their jobs.

Kimmons explains that staying in his post even after the plant closed last June was just part of what unions were meant to do: Stand up for workers and their basic human rights.

"I just feel everyone needs to be represented, if not for the wages then for dignity and respect, because we're all human, we're all God's children, and we should be treated as such."

Kimmons has attempted to organize workers at other companies, but says employees are reluctant to even talk to unions for fear they'll lose their jobs.

Congress is currently working on a bill called the "Employee Free Choice Act" that would make organizing easier. Opponents of the bill argue that employees already are free to organize, so the law is not needed.

John Robinson/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - VA