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It was at the Reuther family home on Wetzel Street in Wheeling, W.Va., that Walter, Victor and Roy learned how to debate.
Every Sunday their father Valentine, a staunch union activist, would assign the boys a subject. The future leaders of the UAW would do research at the local library, preparing whichever side they were given.
“You cannot effectively argue your own view on an issue unless you understand the viewpoint of those who oppose you,” their father said.
Once nestled against a hill near an old mine shaft, the Reuther family home has since made way for West Virginia Route 2.
Luckily, UAW members and local unions can own a piece of history and help maintain the Walter Reuther Memorial, dedicated in Wheeling in October.
For a $300 donation, you’ll receive a sidewalk paving brick from the home at 3640 Wetzel. Each brick, which is engraved with the UAW logo and an original “I Did It For Walter” button, is numbered and comes with a letter of authenticity.
Donations will help preserve the larger-than-life statue of Reuther in shirtsleeves, gesturing as if speaking to a crowd.
A list of brick purchases will be archived at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Letter carriers across America will deliver much more than mail May 12.
The second Saturday in May marks the 15th annual National Association of Letter Carrier’s Food Drive, the nation’s largest one-day drive.
About 30 million people face hunger each day in America, including more than 12 million children.
Last year 70.5 million pounds of food was collected by the 300,000 members of the NALC and delivered to local community food banks, pantries and shelters. NALC members work in partnership with the AFL-CIO Community Services network, America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s food bank network, and United Way of America.
How you can help
Place boxes or cans of nonperishable food next to your mailbox before your letter carrier delivers mail May 12. The carrier does the rest and will take food back to the postal station. It’s then delivered by union volunteers to area food banks for needy families.
At times they are the unsung heroes of the local union — the folks who put out the newspapers and maintain the Web sites to keep their brothers and sisters informed.
They have little time to put it all together, but because of their dedication to their local and the labor movement in general, they make the time and the job gets done.
The 2006 UAW Local Union Press Association (LUPA) Excellence in Journalism and Web Sites Contests recognizes the best of a truly committed group of labor journalists and webmasters.
“There’s a tremendous amount of quality journalism being done by local UAW editors and webmasters,” said Larry Vellequette, a LUPA judge and member of the Toledo Newspaper Guild Local 34043.
“The dedication of these labor activists is evident in the work they do to educate and inspire other UAW members.”
This year’s contest is now under way and winners will be announced at the 2007 LUPA Communications Conference at the Walter and May Reuther UAW Family Education Center in Onaway, Mich., April 15-20.
For more information on the contest or conference, e-mail Joan Silvi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Division I: Local 1950,
Division II: Local 2244, Labor News, and Local 2166, Truckin' News (tie).
Division III: Local 598, Eye Opener.
Division IV: Local 3000, Guide.
Division V: Region 1A Retiree News.
Best Web Site
In 2001 UAW Local 14 member Jim Stark watched his 8-month-old granddaughter go from what they thought was a common cold to six weeks on life support medications waiting for a heart transplant.
“It was quite an ordeal,” he says.
Today Julia Evans is a kindergartner who “loves school, takes tap and jazz, and wants to be an artist,” says her mom, Lisa Nicholson of Toledo.
Julia had cardiomyopathy, where the heart becomes too enlarged to pump effectively. She got her new heart at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital on June 23, 2001, which the family celebrates each year as her heart day.
She’s as aware as a 6-year-old can be of what happened. “When she was 2, she was putting new hearts in her dolls when they got sick,” says Nicholson, an ICU nurse at University of Michigan Hospital.
She is a member of the Michigan Nurses Association, which is a partner with the UAW in the HealthCare Workplace Alliance.
April is Organ Donation Awareness Month, and while many people think they may have become organ donors by signing the backs of their driver’s licenses, that’s not necessarily the case.
“Just because your driver’s license may say you want to be an organ donor, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” according to Nicholson.
States have different laws and in many, the family’s wishes prevail, so “educate your family on what you want.”
You could tell them what Jim Stark says: “You are giving a life to someone else.”
Contact the International Association for Organ Donation, P.O. Box 545, Dearborn, MI 48121, www.iaod.org.
Third-generation UAW member LaTonya Baker is recording secretary for Local 235 at American Axle in Hamtramck, Mich. But she’ll have an additional role soon: delegate to the union’s Special Convention on Collective Bargaining, March 27-28 at Cobo Hall in Detroit.
Baker is looking forward to the convention, which determines the UAW’s bargaining program for the entire union. Delegates will focus on a wide range of issues sent in by local unions, covering the diverse industries and occupations where UAW members work.
Topics include protecting workers in employer restructurings and union organizing activities, concerns about outsourcing and privatization, temporary workers and workplace closings issues, standard-of-living protections and improvements; workplace equality, and making employers more socially responsible.
Delegates also will discuss resolutions on dealing with the nation’s health care crisis and its impact on our members.
“The UAW has long advocated single-payer national health insurance as the fairest and most cost-efficient way to provide affordable, quality, comprehensive health care to every American regardless of income,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger.
“And I hope to see a resolution that urges the federal government to regulate what health care providers can charge for services. Those fees should not be based on income or employer coverage,” she said, adding: “Does health care have to be that expensive?”
There’s another company name on the AFL-CIO’s National List of Endorsed Boycotts: Vincent Bach.
In February the UAW requested a national boycott of Vincent Bach, part of Conn-Selmer Inc.’s Band Division, the leading manufacturer and distributor of band and orchestral instruments for professional, amateur and student use.
More than 200 UAW Local 364 members have been on strike since last April at the musical instrument factory in Elkhart, Ind.
These highly skilled makers of trumpets, saxophones and other instruments went on strike after Conn-Selmer demanded a reduction in wages, job security and health care benefits – and added replacement workers who crossed union picket lines to take their jobs.
The company threatened to outsource work to an unspecified Asian country, presumably China, where instruments could be manufactured at less than half of current production costs.
Conn-Selmer manufactures and distributes products under a variety of well-known names, including Vincent Bach brass, Selmer USA woodwinds and C.G. Conn brass, among many others.
Deputies, corrections officers and other workers for Lucas County (Ohio) voted in 2006 to become members of the UAW after a previous affiliation with another union.
What they wanted from the UAW was the strength in numbers that a large labor union provides, but also some personal attention when negotiating contracts or handling grievances.
A first-ever UAW-negotiated contract validated the choice made by the 450 deputies, corrections officers, dispatchers, counselors, clerks, and courthouse and maintenance employees within the department, which is headquartered in Toledo.
Their new three-year contract, which was ratified Feb. 2, provides a 3 percent wage increase in each year, maintains health care with minimal changes, and greatly improves health and safety.
The agreement, which expires Dec. 31, 2008, and includes a 3 percent retroactive raise they had sought for 2006, was ratified by a 95 percent majority vote.
For dispatcher Melba Martin, a member of the bargaining committee, a spirit of cooperation existed between the UAW and the county. It could be because the UAW also represents the department’s command officers and was familiar with how the UAW approaches negotiations.
“There was respect on both sides of the table,” Martin said.
The dispatcher added that having union representatives that were responsive to the bargaining committee’s needs helped make the contract negotiation a success.
“If I can’t get (my union representative) or anyone else, they are right back to you,” she said. “It’s a good situation, and it makes you feel good that you are important enough that they will get back to you.”
Health and safety issues were critical, said deputy Matt Luettke, bargaining committee chair. Union negotiators won a joint health and safety committee and will soon have a trained and properly equipped extraction team. Bargainers also negotiated shotgun racks for patrol cars and shank vests for corrections workers.
“Getting these issues worked on was one of our major concerns. We talked about protective issues and protective equipment,” Luettke said. “We’ve had a lot of incidents. It doesn’t take much to sharpen anything. An inmate with a pencil can do damage.”
The bargaining committee also won an “Inequity Account” where workers can appeal to a joint committee for additional compensation if they feel their job responsibilities have outgrown their current pay.
A defining moment for members of UAW Local 1050 was the breakdown in contract talks in November over issues ranging from higher health care costs for workers and retirees to mandatory overtime.
In Cleveland the Aluminum Co. of America (Alcoa) workers — who had remained on the job after the previous contract expired in late September — responded by hitting the picket line and stayed there for seven weeks.
Another such moment, said UAW Local 1050 President Jeff Judson, came in December after negotiations resumed and the local ratified a new four-year contract.
“The thing that makes both those times stand out is that we were willing to go the long haul,” said Judson. “We knew that whatever happened, the goal was to take something back that the members could live with, even if we needed to make a few compromises because sometimes that’s what you have to do.”
The new contract, for the first time, gives workers a company match to Alcoa's retirement savings plan of 25 percent each of the first two years and 50 percent in the third and fourth years. Company contributions will be based on employee contributions of up to 6 percent of workers’ earnings.
Under the new agreement, union members will contribute $20 a week toward their health care coverage and see deductibles between $250 and $500, Judson said.
For retirees, who will pay more of their health care costs, the union won a $1,000 lump-sum bonus to help offset those expenses, Judson said.
Local 1050 represents more than 850 active and 655 retired Alcoa workers who make aluminum aerospace products and vehicle wheels for the Big Three and large truck companies, such as Freightliner and Mack.
The union also won a more relaxed overtime policy that means fewer hours, especially on weekends.
That is good news for Jesse Deel, a 43-year-old electrician who said that previous overtime scheduling had him working 22 straight days.
“That didn’t give me much time to be a family man,” said Deel, who is married and has a 5-year-old daughter.
• In Region 1C workers at Plastech Engineered Products Inc. in Lansing, Mich., voted to join the UAW. The 125 workers, who voted in a Jan. 8 election, produce plastic injection mold parts for General Motors.
• In Region 2B workers at Quality Industrial Service Inc. in Lordstown, Ohio, recently voted to join the UAW. The 71 new members handle quality inspection sorting for automotive suppliers.
• In Region 4 workers at two Illinois companies recently joined the UAW through the card-check process. They include workers at Groupo-Antolin in Rockford, who handle in-plant line side logistics for Caterpillar and workers at Oakley Mfg. in Belvidere, who mount tires on rims for DaimlerChrysler.
Is it time to change American labor law?
Tim Dillon thinks so. “It should be up to the people if they want to choose a union or no union,” he says. “They should just take the politics right out of it.”
The bipartisan Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), introduced in Congress in February with 231 sponsors in the House of Representatives, would streamline the union organizing process by requiring employers to bargain with unions once a majority signed union cards.
The bill would also mandate first contract arbitration, and stiffen the penalties against employers who fire or harass union supporters.
Dillon, a member of UAW Local 3000, has seen how labor relations works up close – from both sides of the street.
Once a front-line supervisor for Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI), a leading auto parts maker, he has since transferred to production and been elected a third-shift UAW committeeman at the company’s Rockwood, Mich., seat-making plant.
Dillon was a materials manager at JCI’s Taylor, Mich., plant during a UAW organizing drive there. It was 1994 or 1995 – he can’t remember the exact year – but he’ll never forget the hardball tactics JCI used against union supporters.
Employees had to park down the street, he says, so they could be bused into the facility, past a phalanx of security personnel.
Dillon was drafted into the company’s anti-union campaign.
“We were trained as managers in union-avoidance classes,” he says.
“We were all sent to Georgia and locked up in a hotel room. They had these actors come in as union members, and they would tell us how to respond.
“We were told to keep the employees in small groups, and pacify a few. It was divide and conquer.”
Dillon did not have much stomach for “conquering” union supporters. “My whole family tree is UAW,” he says. “My dad and uncles worked at Ford, and my other uncles were mine workers in West Virginia.”
Dillon asked for a transfer back to production. He wound up at the Rockwood plant, and when an organizing drive got started there in early 2003, the company had made a 180-degree turnaround.
Instead of fighting the union, Dillon says, “they informed everybody if you decide you want the union, that’s your choice. There was no controversy, no intimidation factors.”
The relationship between the UAW and JCI turned around as a result of a landmark agreement in 2002.
The UAW and JCI agreed the company would recognize and bargain with the union when a majority of workers signed union cards. JCI also agreed to remain neutral during organizing campaigns and to arbitrate first contracts if the parties could not reach a settlement.
The terms of the EFCA, it so happens, are quite similar to the terms of the 2002 UAW-JCI agreement. The difference is that EFCA would apply to every worker in America.
Supervisor-turned-committeeman Dillon says that both sides benefit when everyone has a fair chance to express their opinion.
“JCI is a very good company, and they’re doing well,” he says. “We’ve got three shifts, and we’re talking about taking on new business.”
For the latest on EFCA and other key issues, sign up for the UAWire at www.uaw.org.
When my 13-year-old daughter, Donatela, visited me in Michigan, we went shopping for a winter coat. She said, “Mum, let’s go into this Wal-Mart.”
I said, “We don’t shop at Wal-Mart because it is not unionized, and they don’t treat their workers well.”
“Really?” my daughter replied. “I thought all stores in the U.S were unionized.”
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I decided to come to the United States to learn more about labor issues and how they compare with and influence what happens in the rest of the world. I did a lot my first three days.
I went to Detroit's Labor Day Parade. Even though a lot of workers showed up, I could tell that a sizable number of union members and workers did not. Just like back home, the number of members in good standing may be large, but only a handful participate.
That same week the Detroit teachers were on strike. It impressed me to see them picketing and engaging in a peaceful protest. This was a positive thing since it indicated to me that if their demands weren’t being met, they had the legal right to strike. (I later realized my assumption was incorrect because Michigan’s former Gov. John Engler made teacher strikes illegal and they could indeed be fined for striking.)
In my part of the world, strikes start out peaceful but can become very ugly and are usually followed by firings of union leaders. Labor laws are anti-union, and even getting a permit for a peaceful demonstration is often denied.
More than anything, I am impressed by the participation of women in unions. It is motivating to see they have taken on the challenge to make a difference and change the lives of workers by influencing the political system and assuming leadership roles.
Last fall before the November elections, I had the privilege of working on a UAW campaign to raise awareness among women voters.
I find it surprising that workers here get only a few vacation days off per year. At home workers get between 25 and 30 days of paid vacation annually, along with five days of “compassionate leave” to care for an ailing relative or after the death of family member.
I am dumbfounded by the rate at which American jobs are being sent overseas, especially in the auto and manufacturing industries, leaving so many workers here without jobs and posing a huge challenge for the UAW and other unions to overcome dwindling membership.
But what is more shocking is the fact that even an average worker may not have access to health care because it is so expensive. Coming from a Third World country, I would think workers in the United States – the world's greatest superpower – would have access to the best health care.