When Rueben, the union organizer comes to town and is talking to the employees about higher wages and better benefits, he has a hard time getting anyone’s attention. Initially there is fear of false hopes and empty promises. I can see where the people of the town and the employees would have a negative reaction to an outsider from the city coming in and talking about wages they never dreamed of making, even after 30 years of employment.
Eventually Rueben is able to draw Norma Rae’s interest enough, she starts asking questions and contemplating whether or not changing the system is really possible. I believe she mostly wanted to change the system for her children. She had watched her parents work in the mill for 30 years and never advance. They did not advance in their careers, in their finances, or their social lives. She was on exactly the same road as her parents and wanted better for her children.
The movie left the impression the union made life at the mill in a small town better. I believe there is a time and place for unions. In the conditions shown in the movie, a union was necessary. The small town mind set was never going to change. It needed the unionization to inspire change. Realistically thinking, I think it is pretty amazing Rueben and Norma Rae was able to sell the union to the employees. I find most people refuse change most of the time. Change is upsetting and disrupting.
It causes stress and leads to the unknown. The employees risked losing their jobs to campaign for the union. The unionizing process was pretty well laid out in the movie, beginning with getting people to listen to the talk, then to sign the union cards. It ends after the election in favor of the union. I would have liked to see the bargaining process between the union and management. I researched to see what the outcome was and it took 14 years before a contract was signed between the union and J. P. Stevens.