Disgruntled Autoworkers #2
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
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."