Disgruntled Autoworker
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VEBA; A Prescription for Disaster

          One of the more dominate issues facing us in UAW contract talks with the automakers is VEBA, which is an acronym that stands for Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association. In a nutshell, what that means is, if the automakers and the UAW get their way, the Big Three will no longer administer retiree’s healthcare. Instead, they’ll place tens of millions of dollars into a massive healthcare trust fund, VEBA, which will then be administered by the UAW.

          A 09.04.07 USA Today article reported that the auto industries want to fund the VEBA at 60% to 70% of projected cost. According to that same article, talks fell through in the past because automakers refused to fund a VEBA for more than 100% of projected cost. I don’t understand why the UAW would want to get involved in another under funded VEBA, because according to that same article, similar VEBA trusts set up at Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel both ran out of money, and now Caterpillar, the UAW and retirees are embroiled an a maze of lawsuits to determine who, if anyone, is responsible for retirees’ promised healthcare plans. Have President Gettelfinger and the UAW not learned from these mistakes? With an increasing number of autoworkers retiring over the next few years, many with job related health problems, and with the cost of healthcare constantly on the rise, the UAW and the automakers should be promoting a Single Payer National Healthcare Plan, not another under funded VEBA.

          Then there is the matter of the UAW administering our healthcare as apposed to the corporations, who’ve been doing a fairly decent job of it, and that is union membership representation has been waning since the UAW formed Joint Partnerships with the corporations in the early eighties. If we can’t trust International and Local representatives to adequately represent us in labor disputes on the shop floor during our active years, I doubt very seriously that they’ll be any more reliable administering our healthcare after we’ve retired, especially when it comes to healthcare for those who’ve criticized Joint UAW/Corporate policies.

          This brings me to another matter that has me worried about the UAW being healthcare providers, and that is the lack of democracy at the International Executive Board level. For seventy years, and with an iron fist, the IEB has exerted complete and total control over all aspects of our union. Everyone from President Gettelfinger to the VPs, Regional Directors, and Local Servicing Reps are all appointed. Not one was elected by the local’s memberships or their elected Delegates, of which the majority would rather kiss up to members of the IEB and support their status quo than stand up for their own members. And to compound matters, the IEB and their Partner’s policies have infested our locals with loyal armies of appointees whose primary functions are to undermine solidarity and democracy. These who’s who class systems foster an atmosphere of resentment and hatred that’s turned our plants and union halls into hostile environments that make it impossible for members to know whom to trust, elected or appointed.

          And on the subject of appointees, it was recently reported that one of the appointed VEBA administrators is none other than David Shoemaker, son of ex-VP Richard Shoemaker. The same David Shoemaker who was hired under questionable circumstances after that whole 1997 Donnie Douglas, Jay Campbell scandal involving bribes and a prolonged 87 day strike at local 594 that, according to an 08.08.00 Detroit Free Press article, cost GM hundreds of millions in profits and striking members $10,000 to $20,000 each. In order to keep peace between them, preserve their Joint Partnership, and shift healthcare cost to the UAW, I suspect it cost GM and/or the UAW millions to buy their way out of the Douglas-Campbell mess, because all they got was home detention when they should have been sent to prison for several years. Can you guess Shoemaker’s qualification for the VEBA administration position? That’s right, his DNA.

          On a recent episode of CNBC’s ‘Mad Money’ with Jim Cramer, the hyper-active Boo-yah screaming cheerleader of the Bull Market said, “GM’s not in the car manufacturing business, it’s a healthcare provider.” This comment upset me, but it’s true, and you have to admit that when compared to designing vehicles the consumer wants, GM is better at administering our healthcare. The flip side of Cramer’s rant is if Gettelfinger and his appointed henchmen take over administering our healthcare, the UAW’s IEB will then be the healthcare provider, and not its member’s representatives’, whom they’ve been turning their backs on year after year anyway with concession after concession, while they consistently vote themselves raises with far superior healthcare benefits and perks. Something is seriously wrong with this picture.

          In 2005, and in the middle of a contract, Gettelfinger and the IEB’s lawyers went to court, hand in hand with corporate lawyers, and asked a judge for permission to tear up retiree’s rights to secured healthcare guarantees, thereby forcing retirees to pay more out of pocket for their healthcare, and in doing so, they left the door open for future retiree concessions. Active workers were asked to ratify this treasonous act and give up a dollar an hour in the process. GM and Ford autoworkers supposedly ratified the agreements by the slimmest of margins, but since Gettelfinger and the powers that be in the UAW don’t allow union members to monitor ratification vote counts like they do local executive board elections, there’s no way of knowing for certain if the results reflect the will of the membership, especially since retirees were not allowed to vote on a contract that had such a profound effect on their healthcare benefits.

          To me, one thing is perfectly clear, when Gettelfinger and GM asked the courts to give the UAW the right to renegotiate retiree’s healthcare benefits in 2005, that move was a deliberately calculated preemptive strike by the GM/UAW Team to give the IEB the right to reduce retiree’s future healthcare benefits if and when it assumes responsibility for administering the VEBA fund. If that’s not high treason by Gettelfinger and the IEB, I don’t know what is. Fellow activist and soldier of solidarity Gregg Shotwell summed up this prescription for disaster best when he said, “The union is not a financial institution. The union’s purpose is to advance social justice not manage the retreat from corporate accountability.”  

          The Corporations shifting healthcare to the union is just one of many Red Flags we need to keep an eye out for. We must take a stand and vote NO when asked to ratify a concession laden contract, enough is enough. Vote NO to VEBA. Vote NO to Two Tier Wages and Abuse of Temp Workers. Vote NO to COLA Diversions. Vote NO to Supplements to be Negotiated Later. Vote No to Signing Bonuses/Bribes. And Vote NO to the Rush to Ratify. Send Gettelfinger and Company back to the negotiation table; and keep voting No until he comes back with a contract we can live with.

          Visit the factoryrat.com website and print out their Special Edition “Factory Rats Unite” flyer, take it to the nearest Staples Store or your local printer and have a few dozen copies made to circulate in your plant. Inform your coworkers that they should Vote No when they see any of the above Red Flags. Don’t get sucked in with a signing bonus we’ll pay for later, and don’t be rushed to ratify a contract we need at least a week to study and talk about. Take a stand and spread the word. Knowledge is power, share it.

In Solidarity, Doug Hanscom


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