Latest Solidarity Issue

Drive the union label

A guide to 2008 cars, trucks, SUVs and vans made by union members


UAW CARS

Buick Lucerne
Cadillac CTS
Cadillac DTS
Cadillac STS
Cadillac XLR
Chevrolet Cobalt
Chevrolet Corvette
Chevrolet Malibu/Malibu Hybrid
Chrysler Sebring
Dodge Avenger
Dodge Caliber
Dodge Viper
Ford Focus
Ford Mustang
Ford Taurus
Lincoln MKS
Mazda 6
Mercury Sable
Mitsubishi Eclipse
Mitsubishi Galant
Pontiac G5
Pontiac G6
Pontiac Solstice
Pontiac Vibe
Saturn Aura/Aura Hybrid
Saturn Sky
Toyota Corolla*

 

UAW PICKUPS

Chevrolet Colorado
Dodge Dakota
Dodge Ram Pickup*
Ford Explorer Sport Trac
Ford F-Series*
Ford Ranger
GMC Canyon
Isuzu i-Series
Lincoln Mark LT
Mazda B-series
Mitsubishi Raider
Toyota Tacoma*

 

UAW SUVs/CUVs

Buick Enclave
Cadillac Escalade
Cadillac Escalade ESV
Cadillac SRX
Chevrolet Suburban*
Chevrolet Tahoe/
Tahoe Hybrid
Chrysler Aspen
Dodge Durango
Dodge Nitro
Ford Escape/Escape Hybrid
Ford Expedition
Ford Explorer
Ford Taurus X
GMC Acadia
GMC Yukon/Yukon Hybrid
GMC Yukon Denali
Hummer H1
Hummer H2
Hummer H3
Jeep Commander
Jeep Compass
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Jeep Liberty
Jeep Patriot
Jeep Wrangler
Lincoln Navigator
Mazda Tribute/Tribute Hybrid
Mercury Mariner/Mariner Hybrid
Mercury Mountaineer
Mitsubishi Endeavor
Saturn Outlook

 

UAW VANS

Ford E-series
Chevrolet Express
Chevrolet Uplander
GMC Savana

 

CAW CARS

Buick Lacrosse
Chevrolet Impala
Chrysler 300
Dodge Challenger
Dodge Charger
Ford Crown Victoria
Lincoln Town Car
Mercury Grand Marquis
Pontiac Grand Prix

 

CAW SUVs/CUVs

Chevrolet Equinox
Chrysler Pacifica
Dodge Magnum
Ford Edge
Lincoln MKX
Pontiac Torrent
Suzuki XL7

 

UAW/CAW PICKUPS

Chevrolet Silverado* GMC Sierra*

 

UAW/CAW Vans

Chrysler Town & Country Dodge Caravan

 

IUE SUVs/CUVs

Chevrolet TrailBlazer
GMC Envoy
GMC Envoy Denali
Isuzu Ascender
Saab 9-7X

 

Clean, green union machines

Look who’s building hybrids


UAW Local 249 member Jeff Morales road-tests hybrids at the Kansas City Assembly Plant. Photo:DON LEHMAN / UAW LOCAL 249
UAW Local 249 member Jeff Morales road-tests hybrids at the Kansas City Assembly Plant. Photo:DON LEHMAN / UAW LOCAL 249

Jeff Morales remembered the skepticism with which Kansas City Assembly Plant workers greeted the introduction of the Ford Escape Hybrid three years ago.

“People weren’t too sure that this thing would even sell, and they didn’t really understand the technology, either,” said the UAW Local 249 member and 13-year veteran utility repairman who road tests hybrids as they roll off the final line at the KCAP facility in Claycomo, Mo.

This skepticism has long since disappeared, though, as Local 249 members began to realize that Ford could sell every one of the 20,000 hybrid SUVs they could build — and more.

Today KCAP workers are putting in 10-hour days, five days a week and still can’t meet the demand for the Escape Hybrid, its siblings, the Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute hybrids, and their older brothers, the standard Escape, Mariner and Tribute. Management is requesting an additional 16 Saturdays to the plant’s 2008 production schedule.

With pump prices staying high, Americans are clearly shifting their buying patterns toward smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

And Kansas City isn’t the only place where UAW members are kicking out fuel efficient cars and trucks to meet this new consumer demand.

Besides Escapes, Mariners and Tributes, UAW members in Fairfax, Kan., and Arlington, Texas, are building five other hybrid models, including the Saturn Aura, Chevrolet Malibu, GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe.

In fact, the Tahoe was just named Green Car Journal’s 2008 Green Car of the Year. The Tahoe uses a new General Motors’ transmission that began production in October at the company’s Baltimore Transmission plant.

GM’s two-mode transmission represents the only hybrid transmission designed and built in the United States by a major automaker. The Baltimore plant will also be supplying two modes for the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango SUV hybrids.

Meanwhile, Chrysler is also improving its fuel efficiency and emissions by moving in a different direction. Its Jeep Grand Cherokee has a diesel engine which uses bio-fuel.

Lack of access to sufficient numbers of transmissions, as well as storage batteries, has prevented KCAP from producing even more hybrid SUVs to meet market demand. However, Local 249’s leadership reports that Ford’s supplier of storage batteries is expected to ramp up production enough to allow KCAP to increase hybrid production from four an hour to 10 an hour, or 50,000 a year.

And Morales expects there will be a buyer for every one of them.

A report to members on the union's finances


UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn. Photo: GEORGE WALDMAN
UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn. Photo: GEORGE WALDMAN

The UAW has faced many challenges over the past year.

A continuing decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs has had a significant impact on our membership. Our nation's failed health care system and flawed trade policies have severely affected many of our members, especially those affiliated with the domestic automotive industry. Meanwhile, workers who want to become UAW members still face considerable obstacles that interfere with the basic right to organize.

As a consequence, the UAW has made difficult decisions in order to maintain a solid financial structure, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to our members.

As a UAW member, your investment of two hours' pay every month in dues not only earns improved pay and working conditions, but secures a foundation for the union to continue advocating on behalf of all working people.

This financial report provides information about the union's financial position. Among the highlights:

• The union's total fund balance at the end of 2006 was $1,216,655,332.32.

• Total income in 2006 was $255 million, while total expenses were $259 million.

• In June of 2006, delegates to the UAW Convention approved changes to the UAW Constitution. As a result, approximately 50 percent of all dues collected since June of 2006 went to local unions, 5 percent went to the Strike Assistance Fund, and 45 percent went to the International Union's General Fund.

• Overall active and retired membership stood at 1,151,170.

• During 2006, organizing drives brought 57 new bargaining units, accounting for 26,011 potential new members.

• Approximately 4,600 UAW members went on strike or were locked out in 2006, and they received over $17 million from the union's Strike Assistance Fund, which pays for weekly benefits, medical assistance, and other expenditures.

The following is a summary from UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn in Adobe PDF format. The full report is available for examination at all local unions.

Dana workers speak out

‘It’s like a different place’


Connie Peridore
Connie Peridore

Even though they’re from different plants in different towns in different states, UAW members at 11 newly organized Dana Corp. facilities all share something in common: Forming a union with the power of the UAW Dana National Framework Agreement behind them was the catalyst to gaining respect, a voice and fairness in the workplace.

Dana workers decided to go union for different reasons.

For some it was the company’s takeaways: overtime eliminated, and vacations and holidays suddenly not counted as time worked.

For others it was the fact that they’d gotten a $1 raise in the last six years.

For Cindy Rich of Dana's McKenzie, Tenn., facility, it was when her son, Billy Doupis, a National Guardsman, was deployed to Iraq, on his 22nd birthday no less, in November 2005.

Rich requested a two-day leave of absence to visit him at training camp in Indiana before he left for his tour of duty. Dana denied it.

The next time she saw her son was when he came home safely on leave nine months later.

On Dec. 11, 2007, that same son, now 24, and Rich’s husband, Victor Rich, 48, who are military police in the same unit, were deployed to Iraq for a year.

This time, when Cindy Rich requested a five-day leave of absence, it was approved, no questions asked.

What changed between November 2005 and December 2007?

Plenty.

In July the UAW and Dana signed a National Framework Agreement that ensures fair treatment of workers, and includes contract language on personal leaves of absence.

In September Dana workers in McKenzie took advantage of the new pact to form their own union and put the existing national agreement in place.

That’s the difference having a union makes.

* * *

Paris, Tenn.
UAW Local 9025

There’s a 60-foot tall replica of the Eiffel Tower in northwest Tennessee. It’s in a park next to a playground in Paris, after all.

But this Paris, population 9,763, is home to the “World’s Biggest Fish Fry.” It welcomes visitors heading in from the south on U.S. Highway 79 with a 20-foot catfish sign boasting the annual cookout (always the last weekend in April).

For Connie Peridore of Dana's Paris facility, about 90 miles west of Nashville, deciding she needed a union was clear when her fiance’s father died and she asked for a day and a half off to attend the services. First the company said yes; then they said no.

In her nearly 20 years there as a press operator, she had never used all her vacation time.

“It was time for everyone to start getting treated fairly,” said Peridore, a bargaining committee member at McKenzie’s sister facility, which held its card-check recognition Oct. 8. They also opened local contract bargaining in November.

“Management always did what they wanted, when the wanted and how they wanted,” said Joe McClure, a certified process technician for eight years.

During the organizing campaign, McClure appreciated that Dana stayed neutral and let workers decide for themselves. He was also impressed by the union’s upfront approach.

“The UAW told us to do our homework and make an educated decision about voting for the union,” said McClure, 27, a bargaining committee member.

McClure’s goal for this first local contract is “a level playing field.”

“It’s not like we’re looking to win the lottery,” he said. “We just want to be treated fairly.”

Overtime was one of the takeaways at Dana Paris. For Terry Mooney, a 45-year-old National Guardsman and Iraq War veteran, it hit hard.

“It may seem minor, but that OT amounts to thousands of dollars a year for us,” said Mooney, an automation technician with eight years at Dana.

* * *

McKenzie, Tenn.
UAW Local 9024

“Everybody has a story,” said Cindy Rich, 47, who has 12 years as a quality auditor. “That was just a really crappy thing to do to our family,” she said on being denied a leave of absence before her son went to Iraq the first time.

Even when a former Dana manager told Rich that “you just can’t win with these people,” she never gave up. “I thought, maybe so, but I’ll die trying,” she said.

She’s now on the bargaining committee, which opened local contract talks in November. They’ll negotiate with management on local issues such as wages and classifications, overtime, work scheduling, job bidding and bumping.

“It feels great to finally have a voice at work. We just want to be treated with respect,” Rich said, “and it’s good to know the UAW’s got our backs.”

With nine years at Dana McKenzie, Sandra Conley saw things changing, but not for the better.

“Some were small, some drastic, but the turning point for me was when management froze our cost-of-living raise and then took a big raise for themselves,” said the 47-year-old post-cure operator and grandmother of four who said she “bakes auto parts at 350 degrees just like bread.”

“You know what they say: ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’re going to fall for anything,’” she added.

She welcomed the National Framework Agreement, which was ratified well in advance of her plant’s Sept. 21 card-check recognition.

“I felt more secure with that agreement in place,” said Conley, a bargaining team member. “We gained pretty much everything we’d lost, and you knew what was expected of you going in.”

Her goals for local contract negotiations include fairness in job bidding and transfers.

* * *

Hopskinsville, Ky.

Known as “Pet Rock” to just about everyone in this town 70 miles north of Paris, Tenn., Mike Petrakovitz said he never had any doubts about joining the UAW.

“The question for most of us was, ‘Why not join the union?’” said the 18-year support technician.

Petrakovitz, 60, recalled a time when UAW organizers stood at the Hopkinsville plant gate handing out leaflets. “As we drove in, we’d roll up our windows and keep on going,” he said.

But with neutrality and a card-check process in place, the environment for change — an organized workplace — improved.

A bargaining committee member, his goal in negotiating a first contract includes wage gains. “In six years, we’ve only gotten a $1 raise,” he said. “I think we’re worth a whole lot more than that.”

Hopkinsville’s card-check recognition, held Oct. 18, was the UAW’s most recent Dana victory. They haven’t been assigned a local union number yet, and first contract bargaining is set to begin in January.

Bargaining team member Jannie Ford continues to get input from her co-workers.

“You don’t always know what others are dealing with when you’re in your own area all day long,” said Ford, a product technician for 12 years.

“I haven’t had much of a problem myself, but I hear others since I cover the floor,” she said, adding that “morale was so low the last few years” because workers felt mistreated by management.

“But it’s gone up so much since we voted in the union. It’s like a different place,” added Ford.

* * *

Respect, a voice and fairness. They’re key ingredients to a unionized workplace.

For UAW Local 9024 member Sandra Conley of Dana McKenzie, that recipe includes a lot of solidarity.

“We want a UAW flag outside our plant to remind the company that it’s no more just ‘me.’ It’s we.”

Inside This Issue...

Features

    Union Front

      Departments

        Jan / Feb  2010

        Jan / Feb 2010

        Vol. 53, No. 1 - 2

        International Union, UAW
        President: Ron Gettelfinger
        Secretary-Treasurer: Elizabeth Bunn
        Vice presidents: General Holiefield, Bob King, Cal Rapson, Jimmy Settles
        Regional directors: Joseph Peters, 1; Rory Gamble, 1A; Duane Zuckschwerdt, 1C; Don Oetman, 1D; Ken Lortz, 2B; Maurice Davison, 3; Dennis Williams, 4; Jim Wells, 5; Gary Casteel, 8; Joe Ashton, 9; Bob Madore, 9A

        Public Relations and Publications Department
        Director: Roger Kerson
        Assistant director: Christine Moroski
        International representatives: Gwynne Marie Cobb, Sandra Davis, Emily Everett, John Hammond, Vince Piscopo, Joan Silvi and Solidarity editor Jennifer John, members of CWA/The Newspaper Guild Local 34022.
        Clerical staff: Susan Fisher, Pauline Mitchell and Shelly Restivo, members of OPEIU Local 494.


        Foxwoods and Aztar workers vote to form their own unions

        Casino Update


        Foxwoods Casino workers in Norwich, Conn., voted to form their own union.

Photo: PEGGY SHOREY
        Foxwoods Casino workers in Norwich, Conn., voted to form their own union. Photo: PEGGY SHOREY

        A year ago Billy Shea would have stepped to the front of the line to vote down the union.

        “I was a company man,” said Shea, a dealer at Foxwoods Casino Resort in Norwich, Conn. “I believed that you went to work, the company took care of you and that was all you needed.”

        Not any more.

        Now Shea is one of about 2,600 Foxwoods dealers who overwhelmingly voted to join the UAW on Nov. 24.

        “We are just ecstatic,” he said. “I never had any idea I would be standing on this side of the fence, but now I know that it’s the only place where you can stand and be counted.”

        Jacqueline Little, a 15-year dealer at Foxwoods, said she and her co-workers “were prepared to do whatever it took using honesty and facts to show that we knew what we wanted.

        “There’s now a sense of empowerment, and even those who didn’t support the union are excited that we have one,” added Little.

        The election follows another organizing success in Evansville, Ind., where 183 dealers and full-time supervisors at Casino Aztar recently voted 106-59 to become part of the UAW.

        “The recent casino election victories in Connecticut and Indiana are part of a movement of dealers for workplace justice,” said UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn, who directs organizing for the union’s Technical, Office and Professional (TOP) Department.

        “When Foxwoods casino workers decided they wanted a union, nothing was going to stop them,” said Bob Madore, UAW Region 9A director. “They stood their ground and fought with dignity for dignity.”

        Turnaround at Dana

        Workers stand strong


        Union manufacturing jobs are supposed to be an endangered species in the United States. Employers routinely move work away from union facilities and fiercely resist organizing efforts by nonunion workers.

        For 20 years that was the strategy followed by the Dana Corp., a key supplier to U.S. auto plants.

        In the 1980s workers at 25 Dana plants had UAW contracts. By the beginning of 2007 that number was down to nine – with two slated for closure.

        A year later, there’s a turnaround at Dana.

        Since last July workers at 11 Dana facilities in seven U.S. states and Canada – from St. Clair, Mich., to Milwaukee, Wis., and Dry Ridge, Ky., to Barrie, Ontario – have organized their own local unions. The new bargaining units total nearly 2,500 new UAW Dana members.

        There are now 18 Dana plants with UAW contracts, twice as many as a year ago.

        How did the turnaround happen?

        In 2006 the UAW Independents, Parts and Suppliers/Competitive Shops (IPS/CS) Department, headed by UAW Vice President Bob King, and nine UAW Dana locals formed a coalition with United Steelworker (USW) local unions, also representing Dana workers, to confront challenges at the company. A strategic plan was developed to take advantage of this opportunity to boost UAW and USW bargaining strength and to expand the rights of the unorganized.

        In March 2006 Dana Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company asked a federal judge to cancel the company’s labor contracts, and a trial was under way. Union members made it clear that such drastic action could result in a labor dispute.

        The high-stakes bargaining led to a successful outcome.

        Working together, UAW and USW members hammered out the UAW Dana National Framework Agreement, ratified by Dana workers July 24, 2007.

        The four-year national agreement covers wages and health care for active workers, and pensions and health care for retirees. Dana also will contribute more than $750 million to a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) trust fund to pay health care benefits for current and future UAW and USW Dana retirees.

        In an important and innovative feature of the settlement agreement, the two unions recruited and encouraged Centerbridge Partners LP of New York to invest $500 million and sponsor a reorganization plan to allow Dana to emerge from bankruptcy.

        In addition, to expand the rights of unorganized Dana workers, the union insisted on fair procedures, including card-check recognition, a process where employers agree to recognize a union once a majority of workers indicate their preference by signing union authorization cards.

        In July, with the framework agreement in place, it was time to move forward with the neutrality and card-check agreement. The entire UAW teamed up to assist Dana workers, including the union’s National Organizing Department, directed by UAW Vice President Terry Thurman, the IPS/CS Department and UAW regions.

        When workers at the 11 newly-organized Dana facilities achieved majority status they were not just forming their UAW local unions but also deciding whether to accept the national agreement. All 18 local contracts at UAW-represented Dana facilities will expire June 1, 2011, as will contracts at the Steelworkers locals.

        With a common expiration date, Dana workers from different locals will be united during the negotiations process and will have more power at the bargaining table.

        “Our members at Dana had a clear agenda in negotiations: protect jobs and retirees and correct the mismanagement that led the company into bankruptcy. We also insisted that from now on, Dana must respect workers’ right to organize,” said King. “Dana agreed to our conditions, and they have kept their commitments.”

        “I can’t think of a better illustration of why we need the Employee Free Choice Act,” said Thurman, referring to federal legislation that would require all employers to recognize unions on the basis of a majority card check.

        “It’s the same company, and the same workers who tried to organize for years without success. But with card check and neutrality , all of a sudden, it’s a different story,” Thurman added.

        An active UAW organizing drive continues at Dana’s Danville, Ky., facility.

        Workers' Words

        Rick Jordan, UAW Local 372 retiree, Hollow Rock, Tenn.


        <p>UAW Local 372 retiree Rick Jordan, shown target shooting in April at his son’s home in Onstead, Mich</p>

        UAW Local 372 retiree Rick Jordan, shown target shooting in April at his son’s home in Onstead, Mich

        ‘The UAW’

         

        The UAW fights for social and economic justice for all,
        Active and retired people united and standing tall.
        We are the ripples that build a current
        Which can sweep down a mighty wall.
        We fight for the rights of everyone.
        We stand together and get it done.

        Our retirees paved the way
        For the benefits that working people have today.
        We fight to change things that are wrong,
        And to keep the voice of working and retired
        people strong.
        Retirees show solidarity by carrying signs,
        In Labor Day parades and on the picket lines.

        The battles weren’t easy but victory was sweet.
        The UAW would not accept defeat.
        Ford workers won a pension in 1949.
        The time paid off on the picket line.
        Chrysler workers walked for 104 days in the
        bitter cold,
        And won a funded pension plan in 1950 we are told.

        Autoworkers build cars so people can drive,
        And negotiate for health care to keep families alive.
        Auto companies want to take UAW gains,
        After outsourcing jobs and creating strains.

        Unions are vital to the American way.
        The United Auto Workers is here to stay.
        Unions are under attack by anti-union forces.
        We continue the battle for human resources.
        Join the action and help us win.
        The UAW is America’s friend.

        One on one with...

        Region 9A Director Bob Madore


        Bob Madore
        Bob Madore

        What is your region’s strategy for organizing new members?

        Our organizing focus is on public and private sector worksites, including sister locations of currently organized facilities and competitors to currently organized worksites. We just added 2,600 casino workers, for example, to the UAW’s existing 6,000 in Detroit and Atlantic City when workers at Foxwoods in Connecticut voted by 60 percent for the UAW.

        Organizing also involves strengthening our current membership in negotiating the best contracts possible. This is particularly true in Puerto Rico, where our government employees are struggling with a bankrupt Commonwealth.

        Every Region 9A member is an organizer. Our servicing representatives help workers organize in the geographic areas of their assignments. We also train rank-and-file members to further develop our regional skill base.

        Why has Region 9A placed such a high priority on organizing new members?

        Growing our membership makes our union more powerful, and that helps all of us. It means we carry more strength at the bargaining table and in the political arena.

        It’s been exciting to see how 9A members from all different industries have risen to this challenge. Locals are organizing, identifying workers interested in organizing and sending members for organizing training.

        What are the challenges and advantages of being such a diverse organization?

        Diversity is about a lot more than race. In Region 9A we are made up of older workers and new hires; Latino, African-American, Asian and white workers; immigrants and citizens; independent parts suppliers and dealership workers; LGBT and straight; nonreligious, Protestant, Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish and Islamic; machine operators and skilled trades, women and men. If we let our differences divide us, we will never be a united labor movement.

        Celebrating our diversity is vital to our success. It’s not about being politically correct. Simply, we are not as powerful as we could be unless everyone is involved. Every member brings something unique to the labor movement.

        Labor’s motto is, “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.” If we think “all” only means “people like me,” that hurts our chances for success.

        If we conduct a bargaining survey and only ask day shift workers, we are missing part of the truth. If people talk about CAFE standards with only autoworkers, we are missing part of the truth. If we talk to members who speak one language but not another, we are missing part of the truth.

        The challenges labor faces today are far too great not to be the best we can be. All our members deserve it.

        What is Region 9A doing to prepare for the 2008 elections?

        Political action can’t be something that happens every two to four years. It’s a constant component of our work. When some of us were arrested in Connecticut for sitting in for state universal health care, that was political action, too. Through direct action you can educate the public and push politicians to do the right thing.

        We train leaders and members about issues affecting working families all year round. If you wait until two months before an election to talk to folks, you are too late. You have to talk about keeping manufacturing jobs in America, the right to organize and universal health care all year round.

        Safer work

        Solvent use slows at aircraft plant


        “WE HAD NO IDEA”: The more workers learned about the effects of MEK, the less they wanted to go near the hazardous substance, says Schweizer Aircraft assembler Al Johnson.
        “WE HAD NO IDEA”: The more workers learned about the effects of MEK, the less they wanted to go near the hazardous substance, says Schweizer Aircraft assembler Al Johnson.

        According to the American Chemistry Council, solvents are good because they remove residual chemicals off famous paintings after young boys on school field trips deposit chewing gum on them.

        That’s the upside. The downside to some solvents is they aren’t as kind to workers’ nervous systems, internal organs and skin as they are to artwork.

        Bob Huckle, John Read and Al Johnson, who work at Schweizer Aircraft in Elmira, N.Y., can give you the downside of the solvent story.

        These highly skilled members of UAW Local 1752 and their 422 co-workers build small piston and turbine helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, and will begin soon to outfit Blackhawk and Seahawk helicopters.

        “Fifteen years ago, when I got involved in health and safety people were over the top with their use of MEK,” said Huckle, a 35-year veteran loftsman and the local’s president and health and safety chair. “One guy used it to wash his hair with at the end of the work day to get the paint out.”

        The solvent Huckle is referring to, MEK, or methyl ethyl ketone, is widely used throughout industry. At Schweizer, it’s used to clean sealants and epoxies off aluminum aircraft bodies, especially the areas where workers weld, rivet or paint.

        “I would use five gallons a day of that stuff. I was literally bathing in it,” said Johnson, an assembler with 35 years at Schweizer. “Every time I would put in a rivet, I had to clean the area around it with MEK. I couldn’t wear gloves and rivet at the same time because everything was so sticky and messy.”

        “Back when we were younger, we had no idea what this stuff was doing to our bodies,” he said.

        At the time, nobody at Schweizer associated their chronic splitting headaches, asthma, flu-like symptoms, dizziness, and general malaise and fatigue with the solvent they were “bathing in” every day at work.

        Some started to connect the dots, though.

        “I went to the hospital for a CAT scan and an X-ray about something not related to work. That’s when the doctor told me I had scarring of the tissue in my lungs,” recalled Read, a loftsman with 19 years of seniority.

        In 1998, Huckle became more aware of the dangers of MEK while serving as a UAW Health and Safety Local Union Discussion Leader. Reducing its usage or eliminating it altogether became a crusade for him.

        “One of our members had an especially severe exposure problem. She suffered so much nerve damage from working with MEK that it contributed to her becoming more sensitive to every chemical around her, even outside the plant. She would have problems breathing if she was just around other women’s perfumes,” Huckle said.

        This worker left work in 1995 and now is on permanent disability.

        Huckle worked for more than a decade to convince management to use less MEK, gathering information about the hazards of the chemical and possible alternatives. His hard work paid off when Schweizer became a subsidiary of Sikorsky Aircraft in 2004.

        After learning that the Elmira plant ranked high in terms of the amount of chemicals it spewed into the air by a state occupational health and safety agency, Schweizer’s new management agreed to work with Local 1752 to get their numbers down.

        Because MEK was so effective as a solvent and the available substitutes required more “elbow-grease” to do the same job, the previous management had been convinced that MEK was good for productivity.

        But that’s not what Read observed. “You could just see whenever somebody started working with MEK, there would be a parade of people leaving the area because of the effects it was having on them,” he said.

        Even with current management’s cooperation, Huckle still has a problem convincing fellow workers of the risks involved with MEK.

        “I guess it’s human nature, but some people are stashing away MEK because they prefer cleaning with it. We still use some of it in the plant, but it doesn’t come in big containers anymore. People ended up using way too much of it that way,” he said.

        “Now we get MEK in pre-moistened wipes. That cuts down on the amount being inhaled. We went with Skysol as a substitute because it has a lower vapor pressure. That means people won’t be inhaling it as much,” he said.

        Maybe that’ll leave more of the old solvent for artwork.