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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.”
* * *
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.
With dedicated workers making great products, why are U.S. auto companies facing so many problems? Because even though our plants are competitive, our government isn’t.
Companies move overseas because they’re chasing the cheapest wage. Trade policies and subsidies favor foreign investors, and some Asian countries unfairly manipulate their currencies.
Under the Bush administration, the United States has negotiated one-sided trade deals that put our nation’s automakers at a huge disadvantage with foreign competitors.
“The real challenge on trade, and that the UAW has addressed well, is how do we shape globalization so it benefits everyone?” said Harley Shaiken, a professor who specializes in labor and economic issues at the University of California, Berkeley. “In the last five years, we've lost 3 million manufacturing jobs, and global trade played a major role in that.”
Shaiken spoke about trade at the recent UAW International Skilled Trades Conference in Detroit.
“We need a trade policy that has rules that build a highway to the middle class, embraces labor standards and environmental protections. Without it, whatever happens at the bargaining table can be undermined by federal policy,” he said.
In a recent town hall meeting in Detroit, hosted by ABC News anchor Charles Gibson, company executives said Big Three automakers continue to be handcuffed by unfair trade practices and higher health care costs.
The Big Three health care cost disadvantage has been estimated at between $1,000 and $1,500 per vehicle. (See related charts comparing health care spending per capita in auto-producing nations on Page 21, and the Canada advantage on Page 22.)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., deemed it a “health care system in crisis,” adding the issue is high on their agenda with Democrats now in control of Congress.
UAW members and retirees at Ford and GM have made sacrifices to ease the health-care burden on the struggling automakers.
“The UAW has long advocated single-payer national health insurance as the fairest way to provide affordable, quality comprehensive health care to every American regardless of income,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger.
The problem, he added, “cannot be solved at the bargaining table.”
“Sure, I worry about my health care, and I’m even more concerned about it as I get older and closer to retirement,” said Linda Crawford, a UAW Local 276 member at GM’s Arlington, Texas, facility, home of the Escalade. Crawford, 49, plans to retire in two years.
“There needs to be a national solution,” she said.
The United States spends more on health care than any other industrialized nation.
In 2003 our health care spending per capita was $5,365, far more than in the next highest country, Norway ($3,807).
And even though the United States spends more on health care than anyone else, we do worse on things such as infant mortality and life expectancy.
Over the past 35 years, the rate of growth in health care spending per capita has grown rapidly, at an annual rate of 4.3 percent in the United States, compared with 3.8 percent for non-U.S. countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Source: Health Affairs, January/February 2007, Vol. 26, No. 1, “How different is the United States from the rest of the OECD?”
Below are the estimated health care costs per vehicle as of fall 2005 for GM’s Chevrolet Silverado. Some models are built by UAW members in the United States. Others are built in Canada by members of the Canadian Auto Workers union. The vehicles are nearly identical, but the health care costs are vastly different.
Note: Canadian costs per vehicle are expressed in U.S. dollars and are unadjusted. Since 2005 the Canadian dollar has strengthened, which would increase the equivalent U.S. dollar figure slightly.
Source: CAW Research, industry sources
Richie Martins, a UAW GM Saturn worker in Kansas, won’t be dissuaded by reports of auto industry doom and gloom. “We do everything we can to stay focused and put out a great product,” said Martins, a UAW Local 31 member at GM’s Fairfax (Kan.) Assembly plant near Kansas City.
UAW members are building great cars. They’re focused on quality and productivity. And they’re doing it day after day, week after week, under a continuing cloud of uncertainty about the auto industry’s survival.
Given all of the U.S. auto industry’s problems – an uneven playing field plagued with America’s failed health care system, unfair trade practices and the perception that their products are inferior to Asian competitors – it’s a wonder they can compete at all.
But it’s not just about products. It’s about the people behind them: UAW Big Three members.
“People on the floor make everything happen,” said Brian Wade, a UAW Local 440 member from General Motors’ Powertrain facility in Bedford, Ind.
And Martins of Local 31 quickly points out, “It shows in the prize.”
For the first time, GM swept the 2007 North American Car and Truck of the Year honors with the Saturn Aura sedan and Chevrolet Silverado large pickup at the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
“What more can you ask for on a product you work so hard on?” said Martins, 25, who started at Saturn’s Fairfax plant five years ago and installs the Aura’s surge tanks. “We want it every year. It’s a true reflection of how Local 31 members work.”
UAW Local 594 member Linda Williams remembers when she heard the Silverado won: “I started jumping up and down and saying, ‘Yeah!’ It makes me so proud to be on the GM team.
“I’m confident we’re going to make it and that GM’s going to make it,” said Williams 45, who makes Silverado doors at GM’s Pontiac (Mich.) Truck plant and showcased the truck she builds at the Detroit Auto Show.
How do our members maintain their dedication to quality in these tough times?
For Alfonzo Cash, a UAW Local 862 member at Ford Motor Co.’s Louisville (Ky.) Truck plant, it’s simple.
“I have a passion for these vehicles, and the success of them affects me, my family and my community,” said Cash, 36, a 15-year veteran who builds Ford Super-Duty trucks such as the F-250 and F-350.
“If we put out a quality product and we continue to have a passion for it, it’s going to be all right. We’re leading the industry in trucks, and we’re going to keep it up,” he added.
Ford cars and trucks gained momentum and generated positive reactions at this year’s Detroit Auto Show. The company’s new technology and fresh vehicles produced an upbeat response from the auto press.
Earlier this year, Ford announced major investments totaling $866 million in six southeast Michigan plants, which will retain 13,750 Ford manufacturing jobs in the state. Of the six, two are transmission plants that manufacture advanced powertrain products.
Livonia Transmission will receive $88 million to allow expansion and retooling for a high performance, more fuel-efficient 6-speed rear-drive transmission for the 2009 F-150 pickup. Van Dyke Transmission in Sterling Heights will receive $320 million for a fuel-efficient, 6-speed transmission for front-wheel drive vehicles, including the 2008 Ford Escape and Escape Hybrid models.
On the “how cool is that?” front, Ford has teamed up with Microsoft to supply the redesigned Focus, Five Hundred (Taurus) and 10 other vehicles with Sync, hands-free audio technology that not only lets you control your cell phone by voice, but also command your digital music player, including the iPod. It even converts text messages into audio.
For the past two years, Ford and GM have taken turns besting the Toyota Camry in quality surveys. But you’d never know it if you talk to those who would never consider buying American.
A real problem for the Big Three automakers is the perception by some consumers that their products are inferior to their Asian competitors, according to a recent survey conducted by J.D. Power and Associates.
Of the 500 consumers surveyed who said they would consider buying or leasing a vehicle in the next 24 months, fewer than half said they would “most likely” buy a vehicle built by the Big Three.
“American vehicles are avoided due to perceived quality concerns much more frequently than imported vehicles,” the study said. “Actual quality of American vehicles shows a much more competitive outlook.”
Joe Garcia of UAW Local 249 agrees.
“It’s a big misconception. Given a level playing field, economically and politically, we can compete with anybody. The Asian competitors are finding that out,” said Garcia, 50, a 13-year veteran at Ford’s Kansas City (Mo.) Assembly plant, where they build the Escape, among other vehicles.
“I don’t see a quality difference between our plants and foreign-made vehicles,” said Chris Vannis, a UAW Local 862 member at Ford’s Louisville (Ky.) Assembly plant, home of the Explorer and other models. “It’s a public perception that’s completely wrong.”
Vannis, 40, has seen a big improvement in quality in his 17 years as a production worker. “When you start explaining the safety features in our products, people realize we build quality vehicles. We should promote more of that,” he added.
Perhaps that’s why at the recent auto show, Big Three automakers highlighted new styling, safety and dependability.
The Chrysler Group, hoping to build on the success of launching 10 brand new vehicles last year, showcased what has become its “bread and butter” at this year’s Detroit auto show: the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans, each with 35 new or improved features.
After 30 years, Cindy Miller of UAW Local 110, now an inspector on the final line at the St. Louis South Assembly plant in Fenton, Mo., knows them inside and out.
“We’ve been building these minivans since 1986, and most of our work force (at St. Louis South) has been there 10 years or longer,” said Miller, 51. “We know the product, and we’re really proud of what we build.”
Another Local 110 member Annie Greham, a 12-year St. Louis South worker who installs brake boosters on both minivans, breaks it down even further: “It’s simple: We build a great minivan, and that’s why we have such customer loyalty.
“I’ve owned three (Dodge Caravans) myself, and I don’t even have kids,” said Greham, 38. “And I even bought one for my parents who live in North Carolina because I wanted to make sure they’d know exactly what we build here in Fenton.”
Back to Richie Martins, the optimistic UAW Saturn worker in Kansas who, despite these uncertain times, remains focused on the prize: building award-winning cars and trucks in the USA.
“I’m proud to be part of one of the greatest workforces in the world, especially with the tough times we’re facing now. We’re the UAW. We don’t give up.”
On Dec. 16, 2006, UAW President Emeritus Doug Fraser quietly celebrated his 90th birthday. While this is certainly a milestone, it is not in years that we measure the contributions that he has made – and continues to make – to the labor movement and to all workers worldwide. Rather, it is by his enduring and unwavering commitment to the rights of workers.
In the January 2007 issue of Ward’s Auto World, a two-page article paid tribute to the UAW’s 70-year veteran. It references the fact that Doug retired in 1983, but he never stopped working. Today he occupies an office at Wayne State University’s Walter P. Reuther Library, the home of the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs and the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues.
Doug sent a letter to the delegates at the UAW’s 34th Constitutional Convention last June, which I was privileged to read to the delegation. Doug stated in part that he had attended 26 Constitutional Conventions and numerous Special Conventions and that he enjoyed them all.
He went on to say, “Over the years we have met in conventions in hours of crisis, but we always planned for the future. When we suffered an occasional defeat and got knocked down, there was only one thing to do – get up, brush yourself off and get ready to fight again. That is the spirit of the UAW.”
Doug closed his letter as follows: “Finally, this convention has a responsibility. It is now your turn. Continuity does not come automatically. You must work at it. You must be constantly vigilant. You must embrace it, nurture it, insist on preserving our high ethical and moral standards and continue to keep our commitment to our never-ending struggle for social justice for all people of the world. I’m confident you will meet the challenges and pass on an even stronger UAW to the next generation.”
In his letter Doug was telling us that he was aware of today’s environment and how tough it is, but he was also giving us hope for the future. He was reminding us that our union was built out of struggle and that the challenges we face today would strengthen our union for the next generation, but that we would have to work for it. He was asking all of us to treasure our union and to get involved and make a difference. The delegates were inspired by this letter and responded with a standing ovation.
This is our Doug Fraser at his best. He inspires us and he gives us courage. He is a mentor and teacher to us. He is a sounding board, and with his soft voice he gently encourages us. Doug loves the UAW and we love him.