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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for March 27, 2024

All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.


We start with local news…

Barino’s and O’Charley’s Close (MauryCountySource)

Two Columbia restaurants closed their doors last weekend. The Italian restaurant, Barino Italian Southern Eatery, located at 1018 South Garden Street in Columbia, shared on social media that its last day of business was Saturday, March 23rd.

Stating on social media, “This past year has been one of many life changes that have caused us to reflect on where we need to place our focus and energy. It has been such an honor and blessing to serve this wonderful community and have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know all of you and consider it a great privilege. We are grateful and thankful to you for all the support we received as we brought a dream to reality. For many years I had the desire to design and build a restaurant and bring the food I love to cook to the community. The journey has been extremely fulfilling. Those who know me, know I love a good challenge. I thrive on bringing dreams and ideas to fruition. As a songwriter, Barino was a song I needed to write and is a song I am proud to have written. But now it is time for me to write a new song.”

Owners Paul and Karolyn Marino added that they enjoy living in Maury County and plan to “pour ourselves into everything we do here.” They also asked the community to support other locally-owned restaurants in Columbia.

The restaurant first opened back in 2020.

O’Charley’s Restaurant + Bar has closed its doors at 202 James Campbell Boulevard in Columbia as of March 24, 2024.

W. Craig Barber, O’Charley’s CEO, made the following statement regarding the closures.

“Like many brands in the casual dining space, we have faced unprecedented disruptions to our business over the last few years. Based on a variety of these industry challenges and the current macro-economic environment, we closed this O’Charley’s location as of March 24. It is always a difficult decision to close a store, but the decision aligns with a variety of actions to ensure we continue to thrive as a brand. The O’Charley’s brand is proud to have been the place for great food and good times for more than 50 years, and we look forward to continuing this legacy for the next 50.”

It continued, “We appreciate our loyal guests who have visited us at this location while also being deeply grateful for the outstanding work of our operating team. We are working with these team members now to relocate any to another store if they are able, as well as

helping those who may need new employment. We encourage our guests to visit us at any of our other restaurants across the Southeast and Midwest.”

The Franklin location at 1202 Murfreesboro Road, Franklin remains open at this time.

Boys and Girls Club Teen Center (WKOM Audio 3:04)

Yesterday afternoon, the Boys and Girls Club opened their new teen center in Columbia. Front Porch Radio’s Mary Susan Kennedy attended the grand opening and spoke to volunteer Gale Moore, Teen Services Director Haley Johnson, and club benefactors Don and Eva James Crichton, to learn more about the services that the Boys and Girls Club offers the youth in the community.

Unionization at VW (Tennessean)

At the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Isaac Meadows works on the line outside the paint shop. The gleaming car bodies, traveling along a path as long as a football field, stop in front of Meadows at a steady clip, and he attaches parts before the car-in-the-making moves down the line to the next worker.

“The work is very entertaining. I enjoy building stuff,” said Meadows, 40, who moved to Tennessee from Reno, Nevada, for a change of pace and found work at VW. “I don’t have any complaints about the actual job itself.”

Meadows, who has worked at the VW plant for a year, does have other complaints. He wants to be paid more. He wants more control over his schedule, when he can take breaks or when he has to work a Saturday shift. He wants more of a voice at the company. That’s why he supports the United Auto Workers' current campaign to form a union at the Chattanooga VW plant.

He's not alone. A supermajority of workers at the Chattanooga plant signed cards showing their support for a union, according to the UAW. Last week, they filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election at the plant. In response, President Joe Biden issued a press release congratulating the VW workers.

It's no surprise to scholars and industry experts that this occurred months after a 6-week national UAW strike ended last October with a favorable, new contract for 145,000 employees at Ford, Stellantis and General Motors, including the GM plant in Spring Hill.

The UAW, a union founded in the 1930s, has now turned its sights to non-unionized, often foreign-owned car plants, many of which are located in Southern states such as Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina.

“It’s a very promising moment,” said Timothy Minchin, a professor at La Trobe University in Australia who studies the U.S. labor movement. "I think the climate is better than it’s been for a long time."

Last year’s strike, and the contract it produced, caught the attention of autoworkers far from Detroit. And Shawn Fain, the UAW’s current president, has shown himself to be a savvier tactician than previous leaders.

"The Big Three strike kind of shed a light on a lot of things," said Ronald Terry, 57, who has worked at Hyundai's plant in Montgomery, Alabama, since 2014 and supports the union drive there. Terry said his wages were far below autoworkers nationally. He also wants more sick days and fewer last-minute schedule changes.

Organized labor has always struggled in the South. Experts believe that across the region, UAW's best chance for a win today is in Chattanooga, although a victory there is far from certain. Twice, in 2013 shortly after the plant opened, and again in 2019, a majority of the VW Chattanooga workers voted to reject the union.

When the decision to unionize at VW in Chattanooga is again put to a vote, workers who publicly support the UAW might change their minds in private. And the forces that kept unions weak in the South could mean a potential victory at the VW plant leads nowhere for the UAW.

The South has often attracted businesses by promising lower-paid workers and fewer unions. The tactic dates back to the late 19th century, when textile mills were lured South from New England and the Mid-Atlantic region.

Unions came to be viewed in the South as an outside force from the North, Minchin said.

Keeping unions out was necessary, many thought, to make the South an attractive destination for businesses.

“The key thing you see in the South is the participation of the local political establishment in trying to keep out the union. And that goes from the governor’s office down to local people,” said Stephen Silvia, a political science professor at American University who wrote “The UAW’s Southern Gamble: Organizing Workers at Foreign-Owned Vehicle Plants.”

States in recent years have offered large subsidies to lure businesses. VW, for example, received more than $800 million in subsidies for its Chattanooga plant from state, local and federal sources.

The funds come with a price. State and local politicians often feel they have the right to tell these businesses how to operate.

“And typically they say, ‘We don’t want a union,’” Silvia said.

Republicans hold power in Southern states, and historically they oppose unions on principle. Unions also generally support Democratic politicians. The UAW has already endorsed President Joe Biden for the upcoming U.S. presidential election. For Republican politicians, keeping unions out, Silvia said, is also a matter of maintaining power and keeping their jobs.

All states in the South, including Tennessee, have enacted “Right to Work” laws. The laws mean even if a union has organized a business, the workers are not required to pay union dues.

“That’s why union density in non-Right to Work states is double that of Right-to-Work states. The union’s stock and trade, its business model, is dues revenue,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

In the South, foreign and domestic automakers often choose to locate in smaller towns. Workers in remote locations have fewer opportunities for work. And generous donations to local organizations can build community support for the company. VW, for example, notes that since 2010, it has gifted nearly $10 million to nonprofits in the Chattanooga area.

The 2023 strike and the pay raises and other concessions won by the union galvanized Southern auto workers interviewed by The Tennessean. Throughout U.S. history, unsurprisingly, wins by unions have been the greatest spur to the growth of organized labor.

“Even small victories increase the odds that more workers are willing to join. The original unionization of the auto industry happened after a small number of workers at General Motors in Flint won a victory. And the UAW’s recent victory was a really major victory,” said Vanderbilt University’s Joshua Murray, co-author of “Wrecked: How the American Automobile Industry Destroyed Its Capacity to Compete.”

Murray credits Fain, the UAW’s president, with pursuing strategic strike tactics that disrupted the automakers operations. Under Fain, the UAW has also moved away from a top-down approach, which several scholars said was a factor in the union’s defeat in previous elections at the VW plant in Tennessee.

“They take our input, instead of telling us what we need to do,” said Jeremy Kimbrell, 46, who works at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, one of the other current top priorities for the UAW. Half the workers at that plant, according to the UAW, have signed cards supporting the union.

Last month, the UAW’s executive board voted unanimously to budget $40 million over the next two years to support organizing workers who build cars and batteries for electric vehicles in the South.

“It’s a unified union. After having achieved a major contract, they are seeking to organize the 13 companies that are not unionized,” said Harley Shaiken, a UC Berkeley professor who studies the auto industry.

VW has remained officially neutral on the UAW union drive in Chattanooga. Half the board of VW, in line with German law, is comprised of representatives from labor organizations.

“We respect the employees rights to decide what’s best for them when it comes to representation. We will put any information out when we see misinformation or false claims,” said Brent Hinson, CFO for VW in Chattanooga.

Hinson noted that the average VW employee makes more than $60,000, which is above the median household income in Chattanooga. The company also pays 84% of its workers health care premiums.

Last year, VW gave its workers an 11% raise, which is in line with the raises the UAW won for the workers it represents at Ford, GM and Stellantis. UAW argues that VW provided that raise in response to the new union contract and as a way to dampen enthusiasm for organizing. Hinson disputes that claim and said the raise was calculated based on several factors, including inflation and local wages in Chattanooga.

Past organizing efforts at VW in Chattanooga have faced public opposition by Tennessee politicians. Last week, Gov. Bill Lee said it would be "mistake" for the workers to union. So far, other local and state politicians, including U.S. Sen Marsha Blackburn who strongly opposed previous unionization efforts at the plant, have not gotten involved in the current organizing drive.

Although the latest Gallup poll found 67% of Americans have a favorable view of organized labor, only 10% of U.S. workers belong to a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Forty years ago, the percentage of unionized workers was double.

The UAW, even though it can claim a recent victory against Ford, GM and Stellantis, has seen its membership fall like all unions.

The automotive industry has also changed. America's oldest car companies, which have unionized workers, no longer dominate the industry. More men and women who build cars work at non-unionized plants, many of them foreign-owned and many in the South.

If the UAW wants to grow, it has to find new members in the South.

Yolanda Peoples, 41, has worked at the Chattanooga plant for 13 years, almost as long as it has been open. She was in favor of the first two drives to unionize the plant, and she supports the current effort. She wants more control over when and how she has to work. And she thinks the workers have ideas that could make the plant run better.

Peoples said they made mistakes in earlier efforts to convince fellow VW workers to support the UAW.

"I believe we tried to push too fast, instead of getting everybody familiar on how a union works," she said.

As the plant has grown, so has the number of workers. Today at VW she sees more younger workers who are sympathetic to unions. Peoples thinks this time the union will win.

"Based on conversation that we're having in the plant," she said, "a lot of people are on board with getting a union at Volkswagen."

And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Sue White Harlan, 90, resident of Roberts Bend Road, died March 25, 2024, at Poplar Estates Assisted Living in Columbia. 

Funeral services will be conducted Friday, March 29, 2024 at 10:00 AM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Rose Hill Cemetery.  The family will visit with friends on Thursday from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

…And now, news from around the state…

Stranded Boaters (Press Release)

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Officers responded to a call from Marion County regarding kayakers out of their boats near Nicakjack cave around 8:30 p.m. (CDT), Monday March 25th. Officers arrived to find 27 kayakers, including children, stranded on a bank due to extremely high winds. 

A Nickajack cave tour group left out of the Macedonia Road boat ramp earlier in the evening, paddling across the lake to the Nickajack cave. Harsh conditions and high winds quickly challenged the kayakers, and a few did enter the water. The entire group made it to shore near the cave and called for emergency assistance.  

Haletown Volunteer Fire Department, Puckett EMS, and Marion County Sheriff’s Office also responded. Haletown Fire Department arrived with a boat for rescue efforts. However, the vessel was small, and it was capsized by winds before disconnecting from the trailer. TWRA officers were able to ferry kayakers to shore, where they were tended to by medical personnel. No injuries resulted from the incident.  

All kayakers were wearing life jackets. TWRA Boating Officer David Holt stated, “This is a great example of the importance of life jackets. With water temperatures in the mid to high 40’s and high windspeeds, life jackets were a key safety factor.” Wildlife Officers and all agencies responded quickly to the scene to provide care for the stranded boaters and get them back to safety in extremely poor water conditions.

 

More information on safe boating can be found at tnwildlife.org

State Education Report Card (Press Release)

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education released the 2022-23  State Report Card, highlighting new interactive features for families and users to learn more on how districts and schools are performing across the state. 

 

The State Report Card offers families, education leaders, elected officials, and the public a variety of interactive displays that can inform tailored strategies and investments to support students and schools. 

“The updated State Report Card shares powerful data about Tennessee’s public schools and districts, and importantly, empowers families and local communities with information to help them best advocate for students and their public schools,” said Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds. 

 

Annually, the State Report Card is updated to provide information about school and district performance, including overall achievement and progress on state assessments, attendance, English learners’ proficiency in English, graduation rate, and students’ postsecondary readiness. This year, the Report Card highlights the new School Letter Grade system as well as the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA), the new state funding formula which is providing dollars to support specific student needs.  

 

Families can use the updated State Report Card to see how their child’s school is doing using interactive features such as: 

An enhanced letter grade page within each individual school’s profile, showing a snapshot of their child’s school’s performance. 

A TISA calculator tool that demonstrates how the new state funding formula addresses individual student needs.

The 2022-23 State Report Card can be accessed at  tdepublicschools.ondemand.sas.com/

Gas Prices (MSM)

Pump price increases across the state gained momentum last week, rising nine cents on average. The Tennessee Gas Price average is now $3.18 which is 24 cents more expensive than one month ago and five cents more than one year ago.  

“There’s still plenty of upward pressure on gas prices right now in the market, and with last week’s crude oil price increases it’s likely Tennesseans will see another round of increases at the pump this week,” said Megan Cooper, spokeswoman for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Any time we see big oil price gains like we saw last week, it typically takes a week or two before those adjustments move through the retail market.”

Quick Facts

69% of Tennessee gas stations have prices below $3.25 

The lowest 10% of pump prices are $2.95 for regular unleaded 

The highest 10% of pump prices are $3.47 for regular unleaded

Tennessee is the 7th least expensive market in the nation

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

The Tennessee Titans announced its 2024 Youth Football Camp schedule. During May and June, the Titans will host a series of camps across Middle Tennessee open to children ages 7-14.

Participants will learn proper football fundamentals, skills, and position techniques, as well as teamwork skills and the value of good character. Instruction will be led by Tennessee high school and college coaches, with additional support from former Titans players.

Camp registration includes a t-shirt, Titans giveaway bag, photo opportunity with Titans mascot T-Rac, instruction from former Titans players and local high school and college coaches, and the option to purchase discounted tickets to the Titans vs Jaguars game at Nissan Stadium (date TBD).

If there is a financial need, scholarships will be available. To sign-up for Tennessee Titans Youth Football Camps, visit www.tennesseetitans.com/youthfootballcamps.


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