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Bean soup was a staple when the Flint sit-down strikers successfully took on General Motors in 1936 and 1937.
It was a staple for UAW Local 602 recently when it took on the problem of homeless veterans. Local 602, which represents workers at the Lansing (Mich.) Delta Township Assembly plant, held a bean soup fund raiser for the Volunteers of America homeless veterans program.
Steve Bramos, a Vietnam veteran and UAW Local 602 chairman, right, presents a check to the Veterans of America's Patrick Patterson as Bill White, Local 602's veterans chair, looks on. Photo by Joe Vermillion/UAW Local 602.
The fund raiser, which raised $725, was held on White Shirt Day, Feb. 11, the day UAW members and labor movement supporters honor the sit-down strikers.
There was plenty of local media at the event, but that's not why UAW members do what they do. The UAW has always had a strong veterans program, including organizing veterans' stand-downs to raise money and needed items for veterans' hospitals and helping to build two homes for families at the VFW National Home for Children in Eaton Rapids, Mich.
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Carmen Ljubas is a third-generation UAW member, following her great-uncle and her father, Blaz, at Ford’s Chicago Stamping Plant. She worked three years in production, then was the first woman elected in more than 20 years as a district committeeperson. She was a member of the Resolutions Committee for the UAW Constitutional Convention last June.
It’s such an honor to be elected by the membership to begin with. And the convention itself is a truly wonderful experience, to see the members have such a large say in the operation of the union.
As a young girl, hearing my dad talk about strikes and sit-ins and protests, I never thought I’d get a chance to do for my union what my father and great uncle did. It’s hard not to get emotional and passionate about that. It’s emotional for my dad, too – to come to this country from Croatia and have the opportunity to work at Ford and to see that his children have more opportunities than he did. He really helped lay the foundation.
I served on an organizing drive at BorgWarner in Frankfort, Ill. It was amazing. I am employed in a plant where I didn’t have to fight; someone else did that for me. It helped me understand how important it is to preserve what we have and build on that.
At a time many companies are trying to abandon their defined-benefit pensions, the bargaining committee for Local 2308 at Miller Brewing Co., in Trenton, Ohio, maintained a fully funded plan and won a $14 increase in its lifetime benefit.
Wayne Hensley, shop chair, said the bargaining committee also won wage increases totaling $1.65 over the life of the three-year contract that was ratified 277-108 late last year. Miller workers rejected a company offer in November and were working under several extensions since September.
“Many corporations are trying to walk away from their responsibilities to retirees,” Hensley said. “Our bargaining committee fought off attempts to weaken our pension and instead made it stronger.”
In the final year of the agreement, current Miller workers in Ohio will earn $91 per credited year of service when they retire. Local 2308 represents more than 470 workers at the facility, which produces Miller High Life, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Lite, Milwaukee’s Best, Old English, Red Dog, Icehouse and other brews.
The contract also reflected what other working families are experiencing in health care: Miller workers will have to pay a portion of their health care premiums in the second and third year of the agreement.
“It was a difficult decision made by the bargaining committee, but it is the right decision,” Hensley said. “The crisis in health care cannot be fixed at any bargaining table. It is a national problem; we need a national health care program.”
The bargaining committee also fought hard to make sure that future retirees would maintain their medical benefits without a contribution, he added.
Photo: CHRISTINE MOROSKI
UAW Vice President General Holiefield, second from left, who directs the union's DaimlerChrysler Department, and President Ron Gettelfinger, left foreground, met Oct. 24 in Detroit with leaders of IG Metall, the union representing DaimlerChrysler workers in Germany. They met to discuss common concerns of workers in both countries, including the company's recent investments in China, and to develop labor strategies.
Manufacturing industries have faced some tough challenges during the past six years of the Bush administration, said Lind Farley, of UAW Local 2069. A nearly 30-year veteran air conditioning and refrigeration mechanic, Farley works at the Volvo Heavy Truck facility in Dublin, Va.
This winter Farley will head to Detroit to serve as a delegate to the UAW International Skilled Trades Conference Feb. 6-8.
Meeting six weeks in advance of the UAW’s Special Convention for Collective Bargaining on March 26-27, also in Detroit, delegates will address training, new technology, fair trade and other issues of special concern to UAW skilled-trades workers.
“We have to ensure that our resolutions for bargaining will meet the new challenges we will be faced with, so we can continue to provide job security and wages for our families,” said Farley.
“I always come back from the skilled-trades conference with renewed energy and confidence. We need all locals to send as many delegates as possible, to see firsthand how everyone has a part in our union’s future.”
For more information about this year’s conference, contact the UAW Skilled Trades Department, (313) 926-5421.
Members of UAW Local 364 have been on strike since April at the Conn-Selmer musical instrument factory in Elkhart, Ind. Competitive pressure from overseas, say union members, was a key factor in causing the strike.
The 230 highly skilled makers of trumpets, trombones, saxophones and other instruments hit the bricks after their employer demanded more than $8 an hour in wage and benefit concessions.
The demands were made despite the fact that Conn-Selmer returns a 20 percent gross margin, according to a February 2006 presentation to union members.
Not enough profit, say company executives. “In order to provide acceptable value,” they stated, “Conn-Selmer (Band Division) will need to provide profitability at the 35 percent gross margin level.”
“They want to break us,” said Local 364 President Jerry Stayton. “Conn-Selmer is one of the most profitable band instrument producers in the world and the company got greedy. We went in just trying to preserve our rights and maintain our benefits.”
The company threatened to outsource work to an unspecified Asian country – presumably China. Instruments could be manufactured there, the company claimed, at less than half the cost of production in Elkhart.
The company’s demands were unacceptable to union members, says Local 364 Financial Secretary Connie Sanders.
“They can pay their executives $25,000 and $50,000 bonuses,” says Sanders, “but they want to strip away our bargaining rights and pay us a third less per year, raise our health insurance contribution and dismantle the pension.”
Striking workers are also not too happy about replacement workers who crossed union picket lines to take their jobs. A possible settlement offer was derailed when the company insisted on recall rights for replacements.
In addition to strike pay and health insurance coverage from the UAW Strike Assistance Fund, strikers have access to a food bank established in cooperation with the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
Members of UAW Local 660 at Tenneco’s Engineering Center in Grass Lake, Mich., comprise a small but highly skilled group, turning out sophisticated prototypes of exhaust systems for automotive manufacturers.
The 40-member bargaining unit always looked to the future during contract negotiations, deferring possible pay increases to set aside funds for retiree health care.
So when Tenneco said in 2004 it no longer was interested in “cradle to grave” health care and would cut off benefits for workers who had already retired, the union went to court, winning a reversal of the company’s decision.
Stung by its loss in court, Tenneco took a tough line at the bargaining table. When the most recent contract expired in April 2004, the company insisted there would be no health care for future retirees.
Members of Local 660 went on strike to defend the benefits they felt they had already paid for. Almost two years later, they are still fighting for justice at Tenneco.
“We’re a small group, but we’re fighting and we’re going to keep fighting,” says Larry Flannery, president of Local 660. “September was my 30-year anniversary. A big part of my retirement package was my health care. Now the question is whether I can afford to retire.”
A few workers crossed the picket line in the days after the strike started; a half-dozen more were called back to work in January 2006, when the company began hiring permanent replacements and the union made an unconditional offer to return to work.
The remaining strikers keep their spirits strong with a weekly Unity Dinner at their union hall. “We all deserve to be back in their working,” says Bill Hamlett, a picket captain with 10 years seniority at Tenneco.
Union members have filed unfair labor practice charges against the company for illegal firings, intimidation, discrimination and bargaining in bad faith. A victory at the National Labor Relations Board would require Tenneco to immediately re-hire striking workers.
In the meantime, UAW strike pay of $200 a week, plus health benefits, helps sustain families during the struggle for fairness at Tenneco. Some strikers have taken part-time jobs to make ends meet, but the long strike has taken its toll.
“We knew a strike was coming and we tried to prepare ourselves financially, but nearly two years later, that savings is wiped out,” says Hamlett.
Donations for Tenneco strikers can be sent to UAW Local 660, 8990 Saginaw St., Jackson, MI 45678.