Disgruntled Autoworkers #9
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
UAW Local 239 Baltimore