Disgruntled Autoworkers #5
"Dynasties in the UAW"
Being an employee of General Motors and a member of the
UAW for 25 years gives me the right to comment on what I
perceive to be a threat to the union that I, at one time,
felt proud to be a member of. The threat I speak of is not
from the corporations, nor is it from the growing number
of dissidents within the UAW itself.
The threat is from the very leaders of the UAW who were
elected by "delegates" to uphold the pride and
dignity of the membership. The threat began over twenty
years ago when Douglas Fraser was president. It was Fraser
who conceded our personal paid holidays. Then, in 1982,
he formed a partnership with the corporations and together
they created joint funds.
In the beginning, joint funds had a noble cause. They were
used to retrain thousands of laid-off autoworkers from all
of the Big Three auto companies. Over the years the funds
have expanded to help members with child-care, employee
fitness and training centers, and helped members pay for
college, cope with drug addiction and look after the elderly.
Today, there is so much jointness between the corporations
and the UAW that almost everything one does; the other is
involved with, in one way or another. While some joint programs
are still noble, like the joint UAW-GM Make a Wish Foundation,
some are ridiculous, like the joint UAW/GM Recipe Book.
And others are down right confusing, like the joint UAWGM
involvement in NASCAR that further blurs the line between
the UAW and the corporations.
It was a NASCAR race on Memorial Day weekend that got my
attention and motivated me to write this article. That was
the first time I saw Jerry Nadeau's (#25) car. I felt both
pride and shame when I saw the UAW's logo predominately
displayed on its hood with Delphi's corporate logo underneath
it. As the race wore on, so did my union pride, turning
more towards shame, because the more I thought about it,
the more it upset and angered me that our UAW's leaders
formed "another partnership" with the corporation
to put that logo there.
I love NASCAR racing and nothing will change that, but,
as of Memorial Day, I will forever watch it in a different
light. I'll root for my usual drivers, including Jerry Nadeau,
although in the back of my mind the question will linger.
With over a billion dollars in our UAW's funds, why didn't
our union's leaders sponsor a car and race team on their
own? In fact, I think it would be a huge boost to union
pride nationwide to see a union sponsored car challenging
the corporation's sponsored cars, a race within a race,
so to speak.
According to Webster's dictionary, a union is an organization
of workers formed to advance its members' interest, especially
in respect to wages and working conditions. Nowhere in my
dictionary's explanation of the word "union" do
I see the words partnership or jointness.
Our UAW's leaders should be challenging the corporations
on the increasingly deplorable working conditions nationwide
that are injuring and demoralizing an aging work force on
a daily basis, "not" entering into partnerships
or joint programs that have absolutely nothing to do with
the advancement of the union.
Our UAW's president recently stated in June's Solidarity
Magazine that the UAW is a social movement. From my position
on the shop floor, I have to agree with president Yokich;
there is definitely a lot of socializing going on between
the UAW's leaders and the corporations.
We no longer have union leaders who are; of, by and for
the membership; we have union leaders who have not only
crossed the line separating the union from the corporations,
they've erased it. They care more about their relationships
with corporate executives than they do the membership they
are obligated to represent.
For the last twenty years, our UAW's leaders have turned
the presidency of the UAW into a "Dynasty" by
keeping the leadership within their tight circle of friends.
This insures that their partnerships with the corporations
continue unabated. This selfishness by the UAW's leaders
has spilled over to many of our locals, creating mini-dynasties.
Joint programs like health and safety, quality network,
human resource development, and joint training, etc. are
responsible for the increased dissention among the membership
in many of our local unions nationwide. Because the positions
made available through the joint programs are filled by
appointment, and the vast majority of appointees are family
and friends of the Dynasties, past and present.
If you hang out in a bar owned by the former president
of our local's Dynasty for example, you'll increase you're
chances of getting an appointment. If your fortunate enough
to be the sibling or best friend of that same former president,
you'll be appointed to an International position, in spite
of the membership's objections.
A classic example of the selfishness of the current UAW's
Dynasty was the 1997 strike at GM's truck plants in Pontiac,
Michigan. The strike began over substandard staffing levels
that prevented members from taking vacations; a worthy cause.
Yet, the Dynasty turned the strike into a personal matter.
A lawsuit filed by members of local 594 during the summer
of 2000 alleges the Dynasty prolonged the 87-day strike
by two months so former local 594 Chairman Jay Campbell
and International Servicing Representative Donny Douglas
could secure employment for their son and a friend, respectively.
Also questionable are the sons of UAW officials who were
hired shortly after the strike ended, the son of James Beardsley,
administrative assistant to president Yokich, and International
VP Richard Shoemaker's son, who incidentally was promoted
to an International Servicing Representative position a
year and a day after being hired.
How are we as members supposed to feel proud of the UAW
when we hear that one of the few times the Dynasty challenges
the corporation is for nepotism and favoritism? It's frustrating
as hell to see siblings and friends of the Dynasty get prime
jobs after only a year on the line, while the rest of us
are forced to work the line for thirty years, under conditions
that get worse with each new contract/agreement. No wonder
the memberships morale is at an all time low and dissention
is at an all time high.
From Fraser to Yokich, the joint programs resulting from
their partnerships with the corporations are destroying
the very fabric of our union. The UAW's membership has taken
a back seat to their selfishness, and not once have they
looked back to see that our numbers have shrunk from 1.5
million in 1979 to under 728,000 today and still shrinking.
However, if you look at the membership of our Dynasties,
it's not hard to see that their ranks have grown ten-fold
with family and friends, and still growing, thanks to the
President Yokich prides himself on coming from a strong
union background and likes to credit himself for creating
the New UAW. If what we have today is the New UAW, I would
rather have the Old UAW, before the Dynasties. And as for
him having a strong union background, that may be, but I
think Yokich is getting delusional, because from my observations,
he's strayed so far from his union roots, corporate blood
is now coursing through his veins.
The cover of the June 2001 Solidarity Magazine states,
"You don't belong to the UAW, it belongs to you."
If that's true, then the Dynasty won't mind initiating one
member/one vote, now, so that we, the membership, nationwide,
can have the right to vote in the June 2002 International
Executive Board elections.
As I stated in a previous article, "We can no longer
afford to leave our fate in the hands of corruptible delegates."
The membership must demand the right to vote now, before
the Dynasty "appoints the Presidency" to VP's
Shoemaker, Gooden, King, Gettelfinger, Bunn or whoever "they"
choose in 2002, thus continuing the Dynasty for another
I'm willing to bet a month's salary the UAW's Dynasty will
not initiate one member/one vote. Not now, not ever, because
they know the membership will vote them out for selling
out, thereby ending their twenty-year Dynasty and the partnerships
"they" have with the corporations.
The UAW is in dire need of restructuring, and that requires
the ouster of the President, Vice Presidents and the International
Executive Board and all their appointees. It also requires
scraping and/or the restructuring of all joint programs,
and the appointments that go with them, in favor of elected
positions. It's time to end all of the Dynasties in the
UAW and get our unions back to their intended purpose of
representing the membership and challenging the corporations.
Write a certified letter to the president, and each of
the future "successors" to the presidency of the
UAW's Dynasty at Solidarity House, at 8000 E. Jefferson
Ave., Detroit, MI 48214 and demand they initiate one member/one
vote now, and find out for yourself if the UAW belongs to
you or if you belong to the UAW. I guarantee you'll find
that the UAW belongs to the "Dynasty," and you,
belong to "it."
Until we as individual members of this once million-and-a-half
strong and proud union have the right to vote in International
elections, we'll continue to have no say in the direction
the Dynasty takes the UAW, or what joint programs they have
in store for their family and friend's future.