Disgruntled Autoworker
<< Back to Homepage

Disgruntled Autoworkers #15
November 2004

To Congressman Ruppersberger, Jointness Undermines Solidarity and Democracy

Over 20 years ago the UAW International Executive Board (IEB) and General Motors formed a Partnership they called Jointness, a partnership that began with good intentions. They created several joint programs that were designed to educate, retrain and relocate displaced workers who were laid off due to plant closings or downsizing.

The Partners created a Joint Funds (JF) account to finance their new joint programs. In the beginning GM put a nickel in JF for every hour an employee worked. Today it's $.19 and as much as $5.19 for every overtime hour worked. Multiply hours worked by about 250,000 employees when JF was created, factor in downsizing to about 145,000 employees today and we're talking hundreds of millions of dollars.

*In 1999, a banner year for the U.S. auto industry, which means lots of overtime hours, GM put $20,000 an hour, nearly $500,000 a day in JF, about $180 million that year. In a bad year, let's say GM puts in only $90 million, over a 20-year period that's still a mind-boggling amount of money that's being made off the backs of union members, money that should be going into member's checks, or applied to their benefits and pensions.

So much money was amassed in JF the Partners found it necessary to create a separate entity with which to oversee and administer the Funds, hence the UAW/GM Center for Human Resources (CHR). A new *$180 million, 420,000 square-foot office building was recently built on the Detroit River to house the CHR, conveniently located right between the UAW's Solidarity House and GM Headquarters.

The Partners decided that the best method for staffing the CHR and its joint programs at the corporate and company levels would be by appointment. All appointments are at the discretion of corporate management and a select few IEB members at the national level and by company management and Local EB members, usually the president or shop chairmen, at the local levels.

Many of the programs are the brainchild of the staff at the CHR, which has become a sort of Halfway House for many IEB member's family and friends who are too good to work in the Plants. And the same can be said of staffing on the Local levels. God forbid a Union Official's kid gets Repetitive Motion Syndrome, or be subjected to the frantic pace and stress inducing conditions the average member endures daily.

Over the years a plethora of joint programs were created that require JF, from the millions needed to finance the CHR, the annual UAW/GM NASCAR Quality 500 and to publishing the CHR UAW/GM Magazines, to the few thousands or hundreds of dollars needed to purchase jackets, t-shirts, pens or key rings bearing the UAW/GM logo.

The problem with all of these joint programs is that the membership has no idea which program or item is fully, partially, or not funded at all, because there is no disclosure or accountability by the JF administrators to the locals membership. I was recently severely disciplined for writing that a particular program was partially funded by JF. Mgt based its discipline on the fact that I didn't have documentation to back up my claim.

And that's the catch, with so many UAW/GM programs, magazines and local newsletters advertising JF programs, over the last 20 years the membership has been conditioned to believe that when we see the UAW/GM logo on anything, we automatically assume it's funded by Joint Funds. How are we supposed to know? It remains to be seen how the grievances process plays out, but like the discipline, I suspect the grievance has already been jointly predetermined.

Congressman Ruppersberger, this letter isn't about the money. Though I wish it were. The membership is not privy to that information. However, if you're interested, I can put you in touch with a member who has been trying to open the UAW/GM Jointness Books for years. He may be able to provide you with a bit more information on the subject. Just let me know. Anyway, this letter is about what the UAW/GM Jointness Partnership and the Appointee Systems have done to solidarity and democracy in our locals nationwide.

In the beginning there were only a handful of appointees in our plants and nobody cared that an official's low seniority kid got a gravy appointment. Today it's a completely different situation. In the average plant, between 4 and 7% of the membership is required to staff the growing number of Joint Programs. That may not seem like much, but considering the number of good jobs that are constantly being downsized, outsourced or eliminated, these positions are highly sought after by an overworked and aging workforce.

I'm aware the appointee system is a fact of life in the Government, and that nepotism and favoritism factors into many of those appointments, but the appointee system should not be allowed between a Union and the company, because it promotes discrimination and undermines union democracy. Attempts to make appointed positions posted or elective have been met with stiff resistance by Local EB and IEB officials.

Joint Programs aren't the problem; it's the Appointee System, because the majority of the appointments are based on nepotism and favoritism without any consideration for seniority or experience. And a majority of them are for life, or until a program is eliminated. From the shop floor point of view, the average member feels discriminated against, because they are not afforded the same golden opportunities as the privileged few.

Joint Programs are supposed to benefit the union, its members and the corporation, but the benefits to the members becomes questionable when an appointee's loyalty is to those who appointed them. For instance, an Ergonomics Appointee assisted Medical Deptartment personnel by encouraging members to fill out an annual anatomical medical form that indicated their aches and pains. This practice is unethical because the forms could come back to haunt members should they injure themselves in a place previously indicated. Many of us believe the appointee and his Appointers are deliberately deceiving the membership.

Also, an Equal Employment Opportunity Appointee's (union member) ethics became questionable when they state that they must first consult with Management personnel to determine if a charge is valid. These are just two incidents in the last year that have benefited the corporation and not the members. We wonder how many others there may be. Over time we've become suspicious of the majority of the appointee's ethics in the joint programs.

According to the "Memorandum of Understanding Joint Activities," all parties are supposed to benefit from the programs, the corporation, the employees and "The UAW through a strong and viable membership." In the beginning that may have been true, but today there is little evidence the Partner's Joint Programs are benefiting the membership. In fact it has had the opposite effect. Since forming the Partnership, the UAW is over 850,000 members weaker and getting weaker. And that is in no way viable or beneficial to the UAW's membership.

The corporation is benefiting big time while the UAW is slowly dying. Nowhere is this more evident than in our Locals. The IEB demands that all Local EB's write into their Bylaws that all Joint Program and Shop Committee Appointees attend two out of three union meetings or forfeit their positions. A demand that would eventually, and I believe deliberately, undermine solidarity and democracy in our locals.

In locals nationwide, the number of elected officials and their ever-increasing Army of Appointees far exceeds the number of average members that constitutes a union meeting. Over the years, local EB members have learned to use their newfound power to dominate and influence motions, resolutions, union meetings, and more importantly, elections, so as to maintain control of the local political arena.

Since most Appointees are free to roam the shop floor, many of them are used to promote candidates (their appointers) for elections while spreading lies and innuendos about challengers and dissidents who are trying to educate the membership about the Partnership and the devastating effect the Appointee System is having on democracy in our locals.

The majority of the membership is aware of these conditions, but their intimidated by it, which is why they don't participate in union activities or attend meetings. However, if adequately informed, they will vote their conscience and replace questionable Local EB members. As positive as that may sound, it's still not enough to initiate reform, because new EB members are immediately subjected to immense pressure to conform to the Jointness Way by remaining EB members and the IEB's vast Army of local, regional and national Appointees.

If Local EB members still refuse to conform, they will be ousted, even if it means violating the UAW's Constitution. The Partner's Jointness promoters illegally ousted the Shop Chairman of Local 594 for refusing to conform. He is currently appealing his ouster, but if the IEB can indiscriminately **break up an entire Region at will, and **siphon $75 million out of the Strike Fund, his chances of winning his appeal are slim.

The IEB is supposed to be at opposite ends of the bargaining table, or at the very least, at arms length from Management, however, since forming their Partnership with GM, and sharing the same CHR Headquarters and a billion dollar Joint Funds account, they are arm in arm, or one and the same.

The IEB's Partnership with GM has compromised the UAW's independence. They have literally turned the UAW into a company union that manages its members, not represents them. And in conjunction with Management, they are using their appointed army and strong-arm tactics to silence dissention in order to undermine the natural evolution of the union movement.

Therefore, Congressman Ruppersberger, I call for congressional hearings into the unscrupulous UAW/GM Jointness Partnership, their Appointee System and their collective and questionable use of the UAW/GM billion-dollar Joint Funds account that lacks any disclosure or accountability whatsoever to the UAW's membership. Thank you.

In Solidarity,
Doug Hanscom
UAW Local 239 Baltimore


*Source, 05.18.01 Detroit Free Press

** Disgruntled Autoworker #8

UAW 33rd Constitutional Convention Report

<< Back to Homepage