Intro - My name is Doug Hanscom. Some of you may know me from Baltimore, some from here, and others may have heard of me through the very effective rumor mill that’s in all GM plants. I know this as fact because Wilmington is my forth plant and the rumors flowed as freely there as they do here, some good, some not, some about the corporation and some about people. For instance, there are those in this plant, elected and appointed, who have prejudged some of us from Baltimore. Some of us have been labeled troublemakers and others are called disgruntled indigents. A common sense approach to rumors is to never believe anything you hear and never judge anyone based on someone else’s opinion. If you want to know something, ask those in the know, and if you want an opinion about someone, approach that someone and talk to them, you just might be surprised to learn that they’re more upstanding than those who are prejudging them.
I write newsletters and post them on my disgruntledautoworker.com website. I suspect my observations and opinions are the reasons for some of the negative opinions, oh well. I began writing when Baltimore’s Zoneman refused to fight for me when Mgt screwed me out of overtime back in December of 99. A month later I wrote an Observations newsletter that focused on issues coworkers and I had with the union and company partnership. Six months later I met Gregg Shotwell, writer of the Live Bait & Ammo newsletters that can be found on the soldiersofsolidarity.com and futureoftheunion.com websites. Gregg encouraged me to write for a national audience. A month later I wrote a Disgruntled Autoworker newsletter and I’ve been writing one or the other almost monthly. Now that I’m in Wilmington, it became obvious right from the start that the local union and company partnership mirrors Baltimore’s, reason enough to keep writing. Below are a few Wilmington observations, which are not in any particular order of importance.
Animosity & Hatred
Like I said, the rumors about Baltimore members are relentless. We’ve been accused of having bad attitudes, of being disgruntled and worse. If some of us have attitudes, it’s because we believe Local 239’s so called leaders betrayed us, see DA # 39, and because we were forced to Wilmington without any relocation allowance; however, Trenton members received a relocation allowance even though there’s only an 8.6 mile difference between our plants and Wilmington’s. We believe we were discriminated against by the GMUAW Team, plain and simple. Then there is the fact that several Wilmington members have let it be known that Trenton, Baltimore and other gypsies are responsible for displacing their family and friends who were laid off when we arrived. That is not our fault, if you must blame someone, blame the partnership. Gypsies are not your enemy, nor are you ours. The GMUAW Team needs to find a way; I suggest a divorce, to relieve the tension, animosity and hatred that engulf this plant and its union and non-union workers.
Speaking of rumors, the writing, “This plant will close soon,” was on the wall of the Baltimore plant about a year before it closed. However, there were those who wouldn’t believe it. They’d say, “Look at the money GM is spending on this place.” “Yeah so,” gypsies would tell them, and then we’d tell them about the hundreds of millions GM spent in the Bristol, Framingham, Tarrytown and countless other plants around the country only to shut them down shortly thereafter. The more we tried to convince them of the plant’s fate, the more they clung to the belief there would be a reprieve, that the plant would get a new product.
The same can be said of the Wilmington plant. Millions are being spent on improvements, upgrades, new equipment, frivolous overtime, etc. etc. etc., and then there is the persistent rumor that, “Delaware is GM’s headquarters, so this plant will be around forever,” say many of the young and gullible. I’d like to believe that rumor is true for everyone’s sake, but I’m a realist. I believe GM’s headquartered in Delaware purely for tax purposes, and since it’s a transnational, global, corporation, it’s just a matter of time before it packs up its headquarters and follows Halliburton to Dubai or the Cayman Islands.
Resentment & Sabotage
A friend and I were told in Baltimore that Wilmington will be waiting for us. Almost as soon as we got here we felt the resentment. Not from coworkers, but from local reps, appointees and their supporters. One appointee was overheard saying, “They’d better leave their disgruntled attitudes in Baltimore,” and another said, “Yeah we know all about Hanscom and his friend, they’re troublemakers.” I told the Committeeman At large, during a recent conversation, “If being an activist makes us troublemakers, than we’re proud of it.” We don’t care what anybody does, like trashing our workstations or sabotaging our work, and we don’t care what they say behind our backs or otherwise, none of it will change a thing. We will not be intimidated and you will not force us to retire, so get over yourselves and move on.
It never fails. Every time a GM dignitary visits the plant, the coordinators are instructed to hunt down every chair and hide it. We’re like prisoners hiding shivs prior to an inspection, except we’re hiding chairs, because sometimes coordinators are told to throw them in the dumpster. Not long ago, a chair-less member raised hell about his impounded chair by yelling at a dignitary. He was disciplined for his efforts. If the plant manager and his people don’t meet the direct run rate or whatever it is they have to achieve to look good in Detroit, does CEO Wagoner send his minions to repossess their chairs? I don’t think so. I mean, what’s up with that? Don’t we deserve to sit when the line goes down or during breaks? We’re not all social butterflies who like to congregate in groups at picnic tables. Some of us cringe at the thought of team meetings; we prefer to sit in solitude during whatever free time we have. The Baltimore plant had chairs, and lockers, at every workstation. Good grief, cut us some slack and leave the chairs alone.
I called the committeeman on a couple of occasions because jobs that have become available due to members transferring between shifts, or to another job, are not put in the Jobs Book so everyone has an opportunity to put in for them. The committeeman told me the only time a job is put in the Book is when a member dies or retires. I was also told Mgt has the right to backfill open jobs with whomever they choose, based on seniority of course. But, I argued, “Only those in the immediate vicinity of that job vacancy, or those who know someone in the area get to apply for the job while everyone else is left in the dark. It’s not fair to those who are out of the loop, regardless of seniority.” Any job that becomes available, for whatever reason, should be open to everyone, not just those fortunate enough to be in the know. Failure to put all available jobs in the Book fosters favoritism and discrimination and should not be tolerated by the Shop Committee. Contact your rep and tell them what you think.
According to page 14 of Wilmington’s Local Agreement; “Frequency of rotation will be a minimum of two and one-half hours, to a maximum of once a week. Any rotation schedule within this time frame can be decided by individual teams.” Apparently we have a few local reps, Body Shop committeeman for one, who are translating the above to mean members rotate two and one-half hours once a week. In other words, a member rotates to a job for the first two and one-half hours and then back to their job for the rest of the week. Excuse me, but this doesn’t even make sense, and it’s not fair. I tried to explain that the two and one-half hour minimum is to prevent you from rotating every half hour, thereby eliminating confusion and maintaining quality and the maximum is members switch jobs from week to week, but my coworkers and the committeeman would have none of that. Eight weeks ago, and every week since, I’ve requested a mediator to resolve this conflict; we’re still waiting and not rotating despite the fact that, “Regular rotation is required.” Like Baltimore, joint programs like team meetings and rotation are scams perpetrated by the GMUAW Team to give the illusion of membership empowerment.
We’re currently assembling the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars. Every now and then an Opal comes down the line. It’s really a Saturn with a few modifications and cosmetics. The same can be said of Daewoo models, which are also Saturn’s in disguise. I wonder if Opal and Daewoo are putting the Chevy Bow Tie on models they make in their countries and selling them in the USA. This cross pollination of products must be legal otherwise manufactures wouldn’t be doing it, would they? Then again, at one time a vehicle had to be made with seventy percent American made parts to be considered American made. I wonder how many manufactures, foreign and domestic, can make that claim today. Their products may be assembled in the USA, but are they made in the USA? I often wonder about things like that, and I wonder why more Americans, especially Labor Leaders, don’t rise up against the corporate and government greed that’s destroying the American Dream, the middle class, and our country.
I’m Not the Heavy
Groups A and B have to stay an extra six tenths of an hour on Thursdays to cover the next shift while they have their Team Meetings. This still doesn’t make sense since the rest of the plant doesn’t have too, but some of us are guessing it has more to do with retaliation, and collateral damage, which I explained in my last newsletter, DA # 41. We could be wrong, but we don’t think so. Anyway, at the end of the shift on Thursdays, Group A was punching out at 8.5 and getting paid 8.6 while Group B had to wait until 8.6 to punch out. Several members complained to their supervisors, and a union rep, trustee, complained to a committeeman, but to no avail. Another Thursday would roll around and an increasingly frustrated Group B was left standing at the clock while Group A punched out at 8.5 and got paid 8.6.
I know what you’re thinking; what’s the big deal? It’s only a tenth of an hour, six lousy minutes, buck up and get over it, right? Well, to those left standing at the clock while others are paid to leave early, it is a big deal, especially when you consider how hard we work nowadays. We don’t want to hang around any more that the next member. It’d be a different story if we were one of the chosen ones who put in ten or twelve hours a day and don’t do anything, or an appointee whose more Mgt than union member and does even less than a chosen one, but we’re neither of those, we’re hard working line workers, grunts, the meat and potatoes of this damn industry and we should be treated as equals.
I got tired of all the bellyaching so I put in a call for the committeeman. I explained the above to the alternate who agreed that one group shouldn’t be given special treatment over another. The alternate said they’d look into it and get back to me. As expected, another Thursday came and went without a response from the alternate. I put in another call. This time the alternate stated that there was nothing they could do because the two groups belong to different supervisors. I disagreed with this lopsided logic, but the alternate stated that they didn’t want to blow the whistle on Group A for punching out at 8.5 and getting paid 8.6.
This isn’t about blowing the whistle; it’s about being treated as equals, chosen ones and appointees not withstanding. Before pursuing this issue, I spoke to several members in Group A and told them I was going to try and have the disparity between the two groups taken care of. The majority of the members of Group A understood and agreed that we should be treated as equals. There were a couple who weren’t too happy with my plan, in fact they got indignant, but that’s okay too, it’s not about them, it’s about the majority.
I told the alternate that I wanted to take this issue to the next step, the Committeeman At Large. He came down and immediately tried to make this issue about me by telling me I was being paid for twenty nine minutes when I should only be paid twenty six, and how is that not fair to me? I accused him of trying to sidetrack the equality issue, which he denied, but I held my ground. After some wrangling over the issue, in which I stated that I believe a discrimination grievance may be in order, he told me he’d fix the disparity between the groups.
The Committeeman At Large also told me that, if asked, he’d tell people the truth; that I was to blame for them having to punch out at 8.6, thereby pitting them against me. I told him, “That is not the truth; the truth is Mgt is to blame for allowing this. They’re pitting group against group. However, if you want to make me the heavy in your version of the truth, so be it, but you can bet I’ll be telling my version too.”
The following Thursday Groups A and B punched out at 8.6. The disparity issue resolved and the animosity between the groups lessened. What we don’t understand is why the Committeeman At Large couldn’t fix it so both groups punch out at 8.5 and get paid 8.6; we’re just standing around twiddling our thumbs anyway. Personally, I believe the GMUAW Team set this scenario up to make me the heavy, another excuse to pit coworkers against me. And what’s that crap about being paid for twenty nine minutes when we should be paid twenty six? If anything, I think we should be punching out three minutes earlier than what we are. Would someone else please take up this time issue?
Another issue that was briefly discussed during my meeting with the Committeeman At Large, and it seems to be an obsession of his because I’ve heard he’s mentioned it to other gypsies, is why members don’t retire after they get thirty years seniority. He says he’ll retire at thirty, but that remains to be seen. It’s not his or anybody’s business why members don’t retire. I told him if he wanted to complain about members with over thirty years he should look to Solidarity House. Ex-VP Shoemaker, with fifty years of seniority, would still be VP if he wasn’t forced out because of the 65 age rule, but not completely out, he’s still involved in selling us out, I mean upcoming contract negotiations. He agreed and called UAW International Executive Board members dinosaurs. Personally I think they’re traitors who should be tarred and feathered, and even that’s being too easy. Anyway, he should stop obsessing about why members aren’t retiring and focus more on representing them.
Whose side are they on?
Speaking of representation, a few months ago I filed a 78 grievance on my job because I believe it’s overworked. A couple of months later I called the committeeman for a follow up. The alternate told me I haven’t pulled the Andon, which signals I need help. That’s because it doesn’t work. Then the alternate says you’re making production. I’ve never made production. Then the alternate says your coordinator helps you. My coordinator helps everyone else, including people on another team, but not me. The alternate decides to go recheck their facts as I’m left to wonder, whose side are they on anyway?
Dignity and Respect are Non-Negotiable
I can’t help shaking my head in disgust every time I read the above caption. GM has colorful placards all over the plant touting this message. It’s even on the company’s weekly newsletters, and be assured this is the last time I put it in my newsletter, because I believe it’s one of them oxymoron’s, a contradiction designed to have us believe there’s dignity and respect in the workplace when the opposite is true. When I was first hired into this corporation thirty years ago, there were such things as pride, dignity and respect in working here, but then came the Quality Of Work Life programs that were a precursor to the full blown GMUAW Joint Partnership we have today. Now there’s more nepotism, favoritism and cronyism in the workplace than you can shake a stick at, all of which fosters prejudice and discrimination while destroying membership solidarity and harmony. What’s Non-Negotiable is getting Dignity and Respect.
In Solidarity, Doug Hanscom