Disgruntled Autoworker
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Disgruntled Autoworkers #2
October 2000

UAW, The Pride is Gone.

I'm a disgruntled member of the UAW and not at all happy about it. Being disgruntled doesn't necessarily mean that I'm violent and would like a blow up Solidarity House. Although if it's true about words cutting like a knife, then I would like to use my words to cut a few executives of the International down to size for not listening to their members and for their failure to look out for the interests of the membership nationwide, all of whom help pay their six figure salaries.

I haven't always been a disgruntled member of the union. It's an attitude I acquired over the last few years due to changes in working conditions. At first I thought it was my imagination until my coworkers also noticed a gradual change in our work environment. A few years ago most of our jobs on the assembly line could be done in a reasonable amount of time. After completing our specific operations we had time to get a drink of water, unwrap a stick of gum or candy or blow our noses if need be before doing the next operation.

However, over the last few years the company has been slowly eliminating jobs and taking the work from those jobs and adding it to the remaining jobs. Little by little and over a period of time we've found the time between operations getting shorter and shorter. So short now in fact that on some operations a worker doesn't have time to blow their nose, let alone get a drink of water. On other operations a worker has to work so fast that if they were to work any faster they would be in violation of a safety rule about no running in the plant, this is not a joke.

I thought it was a local problem and so did my coworkers; we were blaming our local's leadership for the changes in our work environment, but thanks to the Internet, I've found that our problem is not local but national. After spending some time web surfing union sites and reading union members stories from around the country, I've found that other plants are experiencing the same speedups and overworked jobs as we are. I've come to the conclusion that it's the Internationals, "We've got ours to hell with yours" attitude that is to blame for the gradual yet dramatic change in working conditions nationwide.

To my surprise I've also found there are literally hundreds if not thousands of disgruntled UAW members like me all over the country. Some have even set up websites expressing their displeasure with their unions or their companies. Others have set up websites so that members can express their views or concerns about conditions in their plants or problems with their locals. And other sites exist solely for the purpose of gathering documentation on the wrongs perpetrated on members by local and/or International reps.

All of which wouldn't be necessary if the International hadn't lost its primary focus and maintained a stronger relationship with its membership. The International is supposed to oversee the locals and make sure that their officials are acting in the best interest of their members. However, in the last few years the International has abandoned locals and left them to fend for themselves. In some cases the International is allowing the corporation to pit locals against each other like two dogs in a fight.

A recent example of this is where Local 239 from Baltimore was pitted against Local 933 from Indianapolis, home of Allison Transmissions. Local 239's members were told at a presentation that Allison's local is angry with Baltimore's local for stealing the new transmission line from them while they were having labor problems with their company, something to do with a lot of grievances. When Local 933's back was turned, Local 239's officials ran off with the contract.

Unlike two dogs in a fight, the winner isn't the strongest dog; it's the dog that runs away with its tail between its legs. Meaning the local that concedes the most, wins the most, and Baltimore won the Allison Transmission contract. If the shoe were on the other foot Indianapolis might have done the same thing, because the name of the game is jobs, which nowadays translates to survival of the weakest.

What did Baltimore's local officials concede to win the Allison contract? Only their member's dignity. They gave the company a new type of Living Agreement contract that doesn't expire. That's right, not a 3, 4 or even a 10-year contract, but a non-expiring contract. How did officials get this contract approved by the membership? It was ratified by manipulation and intimidation, officials used the line, "If you don't accept this contract the company may close the doors."

At the time, Baltimore had a lot of lower seniority employees who were intimidated into voting for this contract. And for good measure the company put an endorsement on employee's checks prior to the ratification vote stating, "Don't forget to ratify the contract Sunday." This sounds like a classic case of collusion, but after calls to the NLRB, the Justice Department and a Maryland State Senator, their response was that collusion isn't against the law. It should be for the members of Local 239, because they're the ones who'll have to eat whatever's put on their plates as a result of their union officials and the company's collusion. After it was ratified at the assembly plant, six months later it was ratified for the Allison plant.

As a reward for providing the company with a non-expiring contract, Local 239's officials got to appoint many of their family, friends and themselves to the new Allison Transmissions plant regardless of seniority or experience, and in spite of protest from the membership. A 753-member petition to the International complaining about this fell on deaf ears. Because the International ignored the petitioners, a line on their website stating, "The highest authority in the UAW is the membership" has no meaning to us.

The biggest loser as a result of this infighting between locals is the membership. What we have left are local unions with no backbone. Local officials give the company the shirts off their member's backs, and then tell committeepersons to keep grievances to a minimum or they may scare off the company. The members are left with very little representation if any. You can file a grievance on a faulty water cooler or a fan, but not on your overworked job, so just do it and shut up.

Of course the biggest winner is (GM) Allison Transmissions, they get to relocate to a new environment with a brand new plant, a weak local union with a non-expiring contract in hand and 14.5 million in corporate welfare to boot. I believe the corporation purposely put too high of a demand on companies and their unions like in Indianapolis, knowing the end results would be rewarding.

Where was the International when all this was going on? Probably sitting back smoking their Cuban cigars and stuffing their faces in some exotic location like Florida or Las Vegas and taking odds on the outcome of these dogfights. Then again they could have been bellied up to the bar or playing golf in San Diego or Hawaii with corporate executives and plotting the next dogfight, who knows?

Wherever they were or whatever they were doing doesn't matter. What does matter is that they weren't doing what the membership is paying them to do, and that is to look out for their interest. Why didn't they help Local 933 with their labor problems? After all it is their job to oversee locals. Why didn't they respond to Local 239's petitioners? Their President should have had to answer for his blatant abuse of nepotism and favoritism. Why did International officials promote Local 239's President to a regional position? He should have been disciplined for intimidating and manipulating his membership into a non-expiring contract. That promotion sends a strong signal to other self-serving rogue Presidents; you can sell-out your members and still count on a promotion in the good old boys club. A club, by the way where members are untouchable and not held accountable for their actions.

The Internationals abandonment of locals and their selling-out of the entire membership will spawn a whole new breed of leaders who won't think twice about selling-out their members as well. Local leaders looking to the International for guidance will see them using nepotism and favoritism as tools for negotiation (Local 594) and learn that it's permitted. Baltimore's President learned quickly and by example, because he sold us out to secure prime jobs for his no seniority family and friends, and didn't leave any documentation behind that we know of, just a disgruntled membership. If the future of the UAW depends on leaders like these, the entire membership is in for a wild and rocky ride straight into speeded-up, overworked and non-represented hell. God help us.

When I started out in the Auto Industry, the old dudes who showed me the ropes use to go on and on about how strong the union is and all the good things they've accomplished. You could hear the pride in their voices and it made me feel proud. Twenty-five years later us old dudes don't have that same pride. Today we go on and on about how in the last few contracts the unions have merged with their companies and given up this, that and the other thing. One old dude summed it up best when he said "Walter Ruther's rolled over in his grave so many times you can't tell one bone from another."

In Solidarity,
Doug Hanscom

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