Disgruntled Autoworker
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Disgruntled Autoworkers #9
October 2002

An Open Letter to UAW President Gettelfinger - Slashing Health Benefits

There was a Region 8 insert in the August issue of Solidarity Magazine. On the cover of the insert was an article titled, "We don't just sing it." The article was about UAW members, in Las Vegas for the Conventions, walking the picket line in support of Hotel and Restaurant Employees (HERE) International Union and their members struggle to keep their company paid health care.

The cover of the insert had a picture of UAW members from Georgia holding picket signs that read, "FOR OUR HEALTH," and beneath that it said, "ONE UNION, ONE HEALTH PLAN." I thought it was ironic that the UAW International Executive Board (IEB) supports One Health Plan for HERE members, while at the same time it allows it's own members health benefits to be slashed in some parts of the country.

I work at the GM Truck and Bus plant in Baltimore, and Maryland is one of 5 states that were affected when the IEB and GM, through negotiations for the 2002 open enrollment period, decided that GM would drop our HMO and PPO Health Plans, because they were performing unfavorably. In other words they were too costly for the corporations. Members are now forced into the Traditional Health Plan.

Need I remind you of how expensive the Traditional Health Plan is? We have to pay 100% of all Doctor visits out of our pockets and they can cost anywhere from $80 to $150 per visit, depending on the practitioner. This puts a tremendous financial burden on retirees whose health is in decline due to age, as well as the rest of us, because of the stress and strain that years as an overworked autoworker puts on the body. Not to mention the financial hardship on members with children.

I thought the UAW was supposed to be family friendly. Past and late President Yokich was quoted in a May Solidarity Magazine article as saying, "We have always said we are working for families." How is slashing our benefits family friendly? Mr. Gettelfinger, you were quoted in the Region 8 article as saying, "We're here today for economic and social justice and health care for all." Where is the autoworkers economic and social justice and health care? I don't know about members in the other 4 states, but here in Maryland, we feel that we are being discriminated against.

From Canada to Mexico, and from coast to coast, we are all members of the UAW, so why is Maryland, Delaware, Okalahoma, Arizona and Nevada's health care under attack? You'd think Michigan would be on the list because the bulk of the corporation's employees are there, but it's not. I asked Local Union officials why some states benefits were slashed and others weren't and they couldn't tell me.

I was in Michigan for a Labor Conference on September 28th and 29th and I talked to a retired President of a Local from Flint. I asked him the same question, and what he told me didn't surprise me, because co-workers and I had discussed the same scenario a few weeks ago.

He told me that if the IEB had allowed the Corporations to put Michigan on the list, there would have been 60,000 UAW Members from the area at the gates of Solidarity House demanding answers. He said the 5 states that were targeted are part of a Pilot Program. The selected states are scattered around the country and amount to less than 10% of the UAW's membership.

The membership in the targeted states will complain to their local officials, and a few irate members will call or send letters and emails to Solidarity House, but from personal experience, you get the run around when you call Solidarity House, and letters and emails are rarely answered. So for the most part, after about a month, all of our complaints will stop out of frustration and it will be business as usual at Solidarity House.

Once the hoopla from the Pilot Program has died down, the IEB and the Corporations will wait a year or so and begin implementing the Pilot Program in a few other states, until eventually it is implemented in Michigan too. And along the way the IEB will point to the targeted states and say, "They're not complaining. This is for the good of the corporations and their survival in the competitive global economy."

Talk about deja'vu. Didn't the IEB and GM use the same Pilot program to implement Living Agreements in our Locals in the late 80's and early 90's until they were nationwide? And didn't we hear the same excuse that this is for the good of the corporations and their survival?

Mr. Gettelfinger, you know as well as I do that implementing Living Agreements and slashing our Health Benefits has nothing to do with the corporation's survival. It's about the corporations cutting cost and downsizing the workforce without downsizing the workload, thus overworking its remaining workers so they can rake in huge profits to pay excessive salaries and benefits to executives and invest in joint ventures, here and abroad.

A recent example of one joint venture is GM's announcement to form another alliance with Suzuki to build a product in Canada. Not to mention the fact that GM already owns Saab and has stakes in Isuzu, Subaru, Daewoo, Fiat and a joint venture with Toyota in California. Ford owns Mazda, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Aston Martin. And DaimlerChrysler owns a controlling stake in Mitsubishi Motors and 10% of Hyundai Motor.

And all of these corporate alliances with our supposed competitors came about in the last 20 years while the UAW IEB was busy forming its own alliances with the corporations that resulted in the creation of Joint Funds. Which was originally designed to benefit the membership, but is now used to finance an excessive number of Joint Programs nationwide that undermines the very essence of unionism.

Therefore Mr. Gettelfinger, don't lie to us by tell us that our Health Benefits are being slashed for the good of the corporations and their survival, we know better. We also know that you and the IEB are selling us out by allowing our good paying jobs to be outsourced to lower paying sweatshops like Johnson Controls and Magna International Inc. And then you have the nerve to brag about organizing them. Have you no shame?

Members of our Local's staff asked me to give you the benefit of doubt, they said, "He was just elected, give him a chance to prove himself." I have a problem with their request, because the membership does not have the right to vote in International elections. Therefore, I reminded them that you were not, "Just elected," your predecessor appointed you, as did his and those before him.

Furthermore, you are responsible for the demise of Local 2036 in Henderson, KY. You are as guilty as their company, Accuride Corp., if not more so because you authorized their strike and then abandoned them in their hour of need. And I didn't hear you blowing any whistles when your predecessors began implementing Pro-corporate Living Agreements in our Locals and slashing our Health Benefits.

And lastly, I didn't hear any whistles blowing when the membership was lied to in the 1999 UAW-GM Contract Highlights. On the front cover, shaded, and in bold print, it clearly states, "Health Care; Prescription drug co-pays resisted." A year later that turned out to be a nationwide lie. And it also states, "Other health care benefits improved." Another lie for the members in the 5 targeted states.

As you see, I have absolutely no reason whatsoever to give you the benefit of doubt, but I do have every reason in the world to write this disgruntled letter. My co-workers and I are well aware that once you give up something, we'll never get it back. I challenge you to prove this theory wrong.

Mr. Gettelfinger, I ask that you please redeem the Presidency of what was once the greatest Union in the world, the UAW. You don't have to admit that your predecessors were corrupt, deceitful, selfish, arrogant and vindictive. Just do what they didn't have the wisdom or the courage to do, end the IEB's Corporate Alliances and its Joint Programs and disperse its Appointed Army, thereby relieving overworked conditions in our plants. And then demand that the corporations put the money for the Joint Funds into improving our Health Benefits and into the Pension Fund where it should have been going all along.

And while you're at it, implement democracy with "One Member/One Vote." Swallow your pride and restore benefits for locked out members of Local 2036. Put an end to Pro-corporate Living Agreements. And no more Contract Highlights riddled with lies, give us full disclosure on our next Contract by posting it on the Internet for all to see so that members can make an informed choice.

If you do these things Mr. Gettelfinger, you will be on the right track to making the UAW the adversarial union it once was, then and only then will we be able to hold our heads up high with Union Pride. And that is something that hasn't been done by the membership of the UAW for 20 years.

You needn't respond to the questions in this letter, all you need to do is act, because like they say, "Actions speak louder than words." So we'll be watching and waiting, and praying that you do what's right.

In Solidarity,
Doug Hanscom
UAW Local 239 Baltimore

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