Really macho union guys flock to Mrs. Clinton

Vince Panvini has been the political director of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association for 14 years, and he has seen a lot of Democratic and Republican candidates come and go.

In 2004, he was hoping Dick Gephardt, the congressman from Missouri, would win the Democratic nomination, but Panvini's union was split: some members supported former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean; others liked Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. So they didn't endorse until Gephardt pulled out after the Iowa caucuses, choosing to unite behind Kerry.

This time there is no split, and likely before the end of the year, they will formally endorse Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). The members were polled about the candidates, and Clinton was the favorite, 2-1, Panvini said. "Our guys are really macho, but it's amazing how they flock to her. They love her."

In the race for union support, Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards seem the big winners, but labor leaders say they are impressed with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama -- they just don't know him as well.

Some of the umbrella organizations such as the AFL-CIO and Change to Win or the large internationals, such as Service Employees International Union (SEIU), haven't thrown their weight behind a candidate, but unions or regional councils within those organizations have made endorsements.

For instance, SEIU state councils in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Kansas endorse Obama, while the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers is behind Clinton, and the 1.2 million-member United Steelworkers and the huge SEIU California council are behind Edwards.

It may be that union membership is on the decline -- only 12 percent of the American population belongs to a union -- but organized labor still has tremendous political influence. "Unions may have slipped at the bargaining table, but their importance has grown in the political arena," says Harley Shaiken, a professor at University of California-Berkeley who follows the labor movement.

"That is the paradox of labor today. Union families make up 25 percent of voters. They carry a huge wallop in an election, but they are more important in a primary because they are the heart of the Democratic base, and they know how to turn people out to participate in the caucuses and primaries."

And in some states, such as Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania, there is high union density.

Unions are very demanding of the candidates, expecting them to support legislation that is labor friendly, such as the Employment Free Choice Act that will make it easier to join a union. And if union brass wants you to turn up at a function, you'd better do it.

Obama's failure to attend an endorsement meeting for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers rankled the union's leaders.

"We pushed hard to get every candidate to participate," says Richard Sloan, the union's director of communications. "The prerequisite was that you had to appear before our executive [council] in Florida.

"Obama's people said there was a scheduling conflict, but the other people turned themselves into pretzels to get here." Ultimately, the machinists endorsed Clinton for the Democratic race and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for the Republicans.

Shaiken believes if Obama fails to win big union support it is because his message is "a bit more diffuse than Clinton's or Edwards'. It's the message of hope, and while union members may like that, while they may see it as charismatic, they want something more focused.

"It's not that unions dislike him. It's just that the competition is pretty intense."

What side are they on?


American Federation of Teachers (1.4 million members)
International Association of Machinists (700,000 members) *Democratic Primary
National Association of Letter Carriers (300,000 members)
United Transportation Union (125,000 members)
International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (100,000 members)
Transportation Communications International Union (46,000 members)


United Steelworkers (1.2 million members)
Transport Union Workers of America (200,000 members)
United Mine Workers of America (91,000 members)


New York City's Correction Officers' Benevolent Association (9,000 members)
Chicago Teachers Union (33,000 members)
Illinois Federation of Teachers (80,000 members)


Highly-paid teachers in wealthy district threaten to strike

Under cloudy skies, more than 900 members of the Palatine-Schaumburg (IL) High School District 211 teachers union assembled outside Palatine High School, as the threat of a strike loomed.

"Keep the signs in your trunk," union President John Braglia told the crowd. "This is not over tonight." The union plans additional pickets next week after school in each of the district's buildings, union Vice President Jason Spoor said. A strike could happen as early as Oct. 30.

More than 900 gathered to picket before Thursday night's board meeting, including teachers, friends and family members wanting the district to increase teachers' salaries for the 2007-08 school year.

Labor talks broke down in August, with the final 2.5 percent base salary increase from the district falling short of the union's 3.8 percent request, with a kicker payment for a 4.1 percent total raise.

The 2007-08 salaries don't include a base salary raise, though step increases for those who qualify could raise salaries depending on education and experience. District officials say they want to keep salaries in line with the rate of inflation, which is projected to be at 2.5 percent, though it has seen a recent bump.

Pickets held signs reading one of three phrases: "Fair increase = no strike," "Release our raises," and "Negotiation is your obligation; negotiate this year's increase." Union officials say 285 signs were made.

Braglia reiterated the union's position, saying teachers don't want a multiyear deal. He mentioned classroom sizes and increased contributions to health insurance as being problematic. He added that teachers, like administrators, also believe in responsible spending.

Braglia said the union put misplaced faith in the school board. His comments were greeted by a thunderous applause by the union.

Union officials said they made concessions when agreeing to a three-year deal in December 2005 and deserve to be rewarded. The district was in a financial shambles and required a tax-rate increase approved by voters to protect extracurricular activities and elective classes from being canceled.

Parents and students sat at the meeting trying to make sense of the two sides' positions. Schaumburg's Darren Lewis and his wife, Eunice, have a daughter in the district, and are happy with her education. They attended the meeting trying to get answers.

"We've got a daughter in the public school system, and she's doing great in school," Darren Lewis said. "I'd hate to interrupt her."

Three people, including Braglia, addressed the school board about the teachers' contract, which is set to expire in July. Board President Robert LeFevre read a prepared statement before the comments, an attempt to show school staff and taxpayers how much they are appreciated "during this challenging time."

"It is through the united efforts of our community and our school district that we are able to prepare 13,000 students to meet the demands of a changing world," LeFevre said.

A letter signed by LeFevre and Superintendent Roger Thornton, sent home with students Tuesday, gave parents an outline of how the district was preparing for a strike. The letter states a strike could start as early as Oct. 30.

"Though we regret sharing this news, we wish you to be as prepared as possible should the strike commence," the letter reads.

Additionally, a district-wide e-mail was sent this week, preparing staff for a potential strike.

Jerome Sara, who has a son who graduated in 2004 from Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, spoke in front of the board. The Rolling Meadows accountant teachers are asking for too much.

"You can't have the private sector receiving a 2 to 3 percent increase in compensation and have the public sector receiving something two to three times (more than) that," Sara said.

There are about 1,100 teachers in the union representing District 211, the state's largest high school district. Average teacher pay in District 211 -- $84,185, according to 2006 figures -- is among the highest in the Chicago region and the state. Starting teachers with bachelor's degrees earn about $44,000 in District 211, with high-end teachers with the most education and experience topping out at about $107,000. The union wants to be paid closer to salaries in Northwest Suburban High School District 214, whose instructors will earn 4.25 percent hikes this year.


Gov. chided to come clean about union influence

The Administration of Gov. Bill Ritter should disclose all the details of talks and other communications it has been holding outside the public eye with labor union officials.

The Colorado Association of Public Employees has been talking with Gov. Ritter about forming what’s being described as a partnership with the state work force. That possible accord, as one union official describes it, is based on principles used by two private companies - Kaiser Permanente and Southwest Airlines.

Until recently, the administration would not confirm these “partnership” communications were in the works. Only after the news media forced the administration to release some public records did Coloradans learn of months worth of private communications between administration officials and the unions.

The public’s business should not be handled this way. Big Labor has put a lot of money and effort into electing Democrats in Colorado, but secretive talks are no way to pay the unions back.

The light of day should prevail here. The Ritter administration should let Coloradans know all the details of what it is doing, when and where so they can judge for themselves.


State: Striking teachers union miscounted holidays

The state Department of Education has reviewed its calculation of how long the Lake-Lehman teacher strike can last and determined there was no error, so the original date of Nov. 8 stands.

Teacher union lead negotiator John Holland had sent a formal written request Wednesday seeking a review of the calculations because the union believed the state had made a mistake regarding five local holidays the school board had included in the school calendar. The union believed the state was off by five days, and that the deadline to end the strike should be Nov. 2.

But Department of Education Spokesman Michael Race said late Thursday afternoon that the review had been done and the department decided there had been no error. The strike must end Nov. 8 for students to get 180 days of school by June 15.

While Holland has said the union determines whether to continue to strike on a day-by-day basis, union spokesman Paul Shemansky has also said the union will probably stay out until the deadline in order to force state-mandated non-binding arbitration. While the law allows two teacher strikes in a school year, no strike is allowed during arbitration, which would probably last into January.

The strike began Oct. 15, a week after the Lake-Lehman School Board had decided to release its latest contract offer at a public board meeting rather than to the teacher negotiating team. Holland has said the public release makes the proposal invalid, and that the board “still owes the union a proposal.”

Board members have countered by saying the union must make the next proposal. There has been no movement toward new negotiations since the strike started.


Teamster boss predicts long strike for small pay hike

The strike at the Associated Milk Producers Inc. plant here continued Thursday and no new talks were scheduled. Teamsters Local 120 strike boss Mike Klootwyk said the union has had no contact with AMPI since the weekend, when talks fell apart. About 110 employees walked off the job at noon Tuesday, closing the plant.

He said the main issue behind the strike was the disparity between what union workers at paid at the Dawson plant compared to what they are paid at other AMPI plants. 'We're trying to close the gap a little bit,' he said.

AMPI is a dairy farmer-owned business with 15 dairy plants employing 1,400 people in the Upper Midwest. The company says its member farms produce 5 billion pounds of milk, with annual sales of $1 billion.

Klootwyk said the strikers were prepared for a long layoff. 'We're going to do whatever is necessary to get it done,' he said. 'If that means getting other facilities involved, that's what we're going to do.'

Sheryl Meshke, a spokeswoman for New Ulm-based AMPI, said other AMPI plants in the region have increased production to compensate for the closure of the Dawson plant.

She confirmed that no new talks were scheduled.

Dawson is about 35 miles northwest of Marshall in western Minnesota.


SEIU fights hard in NoVa for new dues

Twenty janitors employed by Red Coats, Inc., to clean Northern Virginia commercial buildings walked off the job yesterday to protest what they say is management's interference with their efforts to join a union.

The strike in Falls Church was part of a larger effort by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to organize janitors in Northern Virginia, where union representation of janitors is sparse.

About 4,500 janitors in the District joined SEIU in 1999. Another 2,000 from Montgomery County and Baltimore joined in 2003.

"This is [part of] a series of activities that is going to be taking place in Northern Virginia as part of an organizing campaign," said Jaime Contreras, SEIU Local 32BJ capital area director.

The union has been trying since May to organize Northern Virginia janitors.

Last week, union leaders filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against Red Coats. Red Coats is a janitorial service company based in Bethesda that employs about 600 workers locally.

The complaint says the company fired workers for union activity, "interrogated employees about their union status" and "impliedly conditioned an employee's day off on rescinding her union card."

About 5,000 janitors clean Northern Virginia commercial buildings, Mr. Contreras said. Some of them earn as little as $6 an hour compared with more than $10 an hour on average for janitors in the District, he said. The Virginia janitors often lack health benefits that union janitors in the District and Maryland receive, he said.

"Nobody can expect a worker to support a family on $6 or $7 per hour," said Rigoberto Mena, a Red Coats cleaner in Northern Virginia.

Striking janitors for Red Coats clean buildings such as the Skyline City Office Park in Falls Church.

Red Coats officials were unavailable for comment yesterday.


SEIU protests, pickets in Indianapolis

About 150 people marched through Downtown Indianapolis and held a rally today to support fair labor practices for janitors across the city.

The demonstrators included low-wage janitors, local clergy and community leaders along with striking janitors, according to a news release from Service Employees International Union.

The march through Downtown began at noon at 10 W. Market St., where janitors are striking, and continued with a rally on the steps of Monument Circle, said SEIU organizer Becky Maran.

“Workers spoke themselves, and leaders in the community spoke for the need for good jobs with health care and about the need for janitors to have a fair and just contract across the city,” she said.


Employer carries on during Teamsters strike

A strike continues at the Associated Milk Producers Incorporated plant in Fergus Falls (MN), with no new talks scheduled. A representative for Teamsters Local 120 says the union has had no contact with AMPI since the weekend, when talks fell apart. About 110 employees walked off the job Tuesday, closing the plant.

The main issue is a disparity between what union workers are paid at the Dawson plant compared with what they are paid at other AMPI plants.

AMPI is a dairy farmer-owned business with 15 dairy plants employing 1,400 people in the Upper Midwest. A spokeswoman for New Ulm-based AMPI says other AMPI plants in the region have increased production to compensate for the closure of the Dawson plant.


Pro-union Judge blasted for billboard endorsements

The Columbus (OH) Bar Association criticized billboards supporting Judge Amy Salerno's re-election campaign today, calling them unfair and misleading. But Salerno said tonight that she's already in the process of correcting them.

The 30 red, white and blue signs say in bold letters that Salerno is "endorsed by police, teachers and labor" unions.

The unions are identified in smaller print in violation of Ohio Supreme Court guidelines, according to the bar association. The guidelines address judicial campaign literature.

Her opponent filed the complaint with the Columbus Bar Association, whose Judicial Campaign Advertising Committee voted today to publicly reprimand the sitting Franklin County Municipal Court judge.

Salerno signed a pledge to abide by campaign ethical guidelines but never submitted the billboards for review, said Kathleen Trafford, the committee's chairwoman.

"The rules state that if you claim an endorsement, you must be specific. You can't list them generically," Trafford said. "It also matters what medium you use. We believe the (small) type seen at 40mph or greater is misleading and does not meet the spirit of the rule."

Salerno said the billboards are being changed to specifically state that she's endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9. She also said the type size on the billboards is being enlarged.

"We have complied in order to make sure there is no confusion about which organizations endorse me," Salerno said.

Salerno's printed campaign literature includes the same language, but on a large postcard. The committee asked Salerno to modify the billboards last week.

Salerno, a Republican appointed to the bench in 2005, is seeking re-election to her first full term. She is opposed by Democrat Joseph Mas, a lawyer in private practice.

Mas approached the bar committee with the complaint.

"The visual appearance was so abusive I felt I had to, especially before any TV or radio ads appear this close to the election," Mas said.

The election is Nov. 6.


UAW-Navistar strike hits Pennsylvania

Union employees at the International Truck and Engine parts distribution center in East Manchester Township have joined fellow United Auto Workers employees across the nation in a strike.

The UAW said Tuesday more than 4,000 workers in six states are striking against International Truck and Engine, alleging unfair labor practices.

In this area, there are about 15 members of UAW Local 187 on strike. The distribution center employs about 100 people.

International Truck and Engine is owned by Navistar International Corp., and is a producer of medium and heavy trucks, as well as mid-range diesel engines and truck parts. Workers at 11 local unions in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Texas and Georgia began striking as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the UAW said in a release. "International Truck and Engine has shredded our agreement, shipped our work out of the country, and trampled our nation's labor laws," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said in the release.

On the picket line on Steamboat Boulevard in East Manchester Township, striking workers declined to comment.

The union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Roy Wiley, spokesman for Warrenville, Ill.-based ITE, said the company has been "negotiating in good faith."

"The union's allegations are entirely unfounded and false, and I'm convinced (we) will be vindicated once we get into the NLRB process," Wiley said.

He said company officials don't yet know what impact the strike will have on operations, adding that ITE -- a unit of Navistar International Corp. -- has both union and nonunion facilities. Production will continue as planned at nonunion plants, he said.


Actors' union pens members script for writers' strike

Despite its support for the WGA in contract talks with studios, SAG leadership wants members to know that they can continue to go to acting auditions.

The WGA resumes negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers Thursday morning, and talks are expected to continue at least until the guild's film and TV contract expires Wednesday.

"We continue to be hopeful that an amicable and equitable conclusion to their negotiations will occur," SAG said in a recent message to members. "However, now that (an) overwhelming majority of the WGA membership has voted the authority to call a strike if the talks fail to produce a deal, it is appropriate that we discuss with you what the ramifications of a work stoppage would mean to you (and) your continuing to work if a strike becomes a reality."

The electronic message was sent Tuesday after earlier being posted on a secure section of SAG's Web site. It's understood that the DGA also is planning a mass e-mail to members this week regarding a possible WGA strike.

The SAG message contained a few key nuggets of advice for members:

- Actors under contract to a TV show that continues to produce episodes "are obligated by your personal service agreement and the 'no strike' clause in our collective bargaining agreements to go to work."

- Actors wishing to look for jobs "can continue to audition for work."

- Actors wishing to walk WGA picket lines are encouraged to do so on their own time.

Of all the unions working in Hollywood, only the Teamsters have contracts with specific language allowing some members to honor picket lines. The language allows individuals fearing for their personal safety in crossing picket lines to refuse to do so without fear of retribution from employers.

Such situations are limited to instances "where there is actual and imminent danger of bodily harm to the employee" under the current Teamsters contract with the AMPTP. SAG's contract, which runs until June 30, has no such language.

Craig Mazin, a writer and director whose artfulwriter blog has tracked the WGA talks, applauded the SAG message to members for its pro-WGA sentiment. But he also questioned whether a strike lacking specific SAG support could work.

"That's one reason I hate the idea of an early strike," wrote Mazin, currently in production with Dimension's film spoof "Superhero!" which he is directing from his own script. "When it comes to SAG and the WGA, our strike threat is weaker, simply because we can't shut production down instantly and maybe also because we don't have a collection of the most famous faces in America to help promote our position."

As for the prospect of whether the WGA will call a strike for Nov. 1 or anytime soon, nobody claims to know for sure.

Mused one high-level industryite: "I hate the idea of a strike. It's a mess, and some people never recover from it."

Yet, painful or not, the WGA is making preparations for the possibility of a strike, including meetings with other labor groups throughout the Los Angeles area.

"They're preparing for war," one well-placed source observed.

When, or even if, that war might be declared remains the subject of debate.


Teachers union unrest multiplies in PA

There was another picket line at a school district in Luzerne County (PA) Thursday. Members of the support staff in the Crestwood School District demonstrated outside the school board meeting. They are not on strike but the staffers who work in the cafeteria and other parts of the district want to bring attention to the fact that they have been without a contract since 2001.

In the Lake-Lehman district teachers have been striking since last week and with no classes, some people are getting antsy. Lake-Lehman teachers hit the picket line October 15. The school board said its final contract offer is on the table. There is no word yet whether any more negotiations have been scheduled.

The state education department recently sent letters to Lake-Lehman teachers telling them their strike can go no longer than November 8 so the school year can be complete by June 15.

Some students said believe it or not, they want to get back to class. "I actually really like school and so I kind of want to get back and continue on with the year," said Sarah Lewis.

"I do understand they've gone a year without a contract but it's time to go back and get an education," said Brandie Gensel.


Failed-strike aftermath 'void of acrimony' so far

Reynolds (PA) School Board and Reynolds Education Association met Thursday night, the first time the parties have held a contract negotiation session since the teachers strike ended. There was no word late Thursday on the outcome of the session, which was set to begin at 7:15 p.m.

Representatives from both sides said Thursday afternoon that a joint news release is likely to be issued today. “I can’t really say anything because the parties have mutually agreed to issue joint press releases,” said Dr. Charles Steele, a Pittsburgh attorney and the board’s chief negotiator.

Marcus D. Schlegel of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, who is advising the union, agreed with Steele’s comment. Steele said the board is glad teachers are back in school and both parties are optimistic a contract will be settled soon.

“The atmosphere is void of acrimony,” he said. He said he couldn’t comment further on the status of negotiations. “We don’t want to negotiate in the press,” Steele said.

Teachers went on strike Oct. 9 after they were unable to settle a new contract with the board. The last bargaining session was held Oct. 18 and ended after 5 hours when the board and union agreed to end the nine-day strike and schedule more sessions.

Classes resumed Monday.

The next bargaining session is set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, and four more have been scheduled after that if additional meetings are necessary.

If a new contract isn’t settled during those sessions, the board and union have agreed to enter into nonbinding arbitration and an arbiter will help settle a new contract.


How the UAW pushed through its sellout at Chrysler

With the votes at four Detroit area auto plants Wednesday it appears the contract negotiated between the United Auto Workers and Chrysler LLC will be narrowly approved. Although the union has not released actual totals, press accounts report 55 percent of those voting have approved the deal.

According to the Wall Street Journal, only an “overwhelming” rejection by workers at the last large local left to vote—the 3,800-member Local 1268 at the assembly plant in Belvidere, Illinois—could defeat the contract.

The passage of the new four-year labor agreement will have devastating results. With this contract Chrysler’s Wall Street owners—private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management—will accelerate their plans to carve up the number three US automaker by shutting down or selling off dozens of factories.

Thousands of workers will lose their jobs and entire working class communities such as Detroit, St. Louis and Kokomo, Indiana—already wracked by high levels of unemployment and social distress—will face even greater blows.

Like the agreement with General Motors and the upcoming contract with Ford, the Chrysler deal condemns the next generation of auto workers to near poverty by reducing wages from $28.75 an hour to $14.00.

Current workers will face a campaign of harassment by management, which is eager to replace higher-paid veteran workers with low-paid new hires. With wages frozen and Cost-of-Living Adjustments diverted, workers will be ravaged by higher housing, food, fuel, education and health-care costs.

The deal will relieve the company of its obligation to pay for the medical coverage of its 78,000 retired workers and their spouses. Instead, the principle of employer-paid retiree health-care benefits—won by auto workers in the 1950s and 1960s—has been abandoned.

In exchange for sacrificing the jobs, wages and benefits of auto workers, the UAW is being handed control of a multibillion-dollar retiree health-care trust fund, known as a Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association, or VEBA. With the trust the UAW will gain a steady stream of income as proprietor of one of the largest private investment funds in the US. At the same time the UAW will be in charge of slashing benefits for retirees and their families.

Chrysler workers throughout the country recognized that this contract threatened to destroy the gains of decades of struggle. Locals representing more than 16,000 members rejected the deal in Missouri, Indiana, Delaware, Michigan and Ohio. As late as Tuesday, after the contract was overwhelming rejected at three plants in Kokomo, Indiana, there was a strong possibility that the sell-out agreement would be defeated—the first rejection of a national contract since 1982.

Chris, a worker at the Kokomo transmission plant and a member of UAW Local 685, which rejected the contract by a 72 percent vote, told the WSWS, “At one informational meeting the local president was shouted down for supporting the contract. The International sent in four to five reps to sell it. There was so much hostility towards them I thought someone was going to call the police.

“We don’t trust the International. Somebody said they sounded more like supervisors who were out of work. They just talked about helping the corporation make profits not the needs of the workers they are supposed to represent.

“Workers were especially angry about the two-tier wages and the so-called core and non-core jobs. The union would never specify which jobs were going to be lower paid non-core. All they said was 120 days after the contract the International would come to the plant to decide which jobs were which.

“Look what happened to the Delphi workers. It started with two-tier wages and non-core jobs and by the next contract everybody was working for the lower pay. The International rep boasted that the Chrysler agreement was modeled after Delphi. It doesn’t take a genius to see where we are all heading.”

In the face of this mass opposition, how did the UAW succeed in pushing through the contract?

After the bureaucracy’s defeat in Indiana, the fate of the contract depended on four locals in the Detroit area. With its chances to gain control of the VEBA in danger, the UAW threw the full force of its bureaucratic apparatus into an intense campaign to get the contract passed at four assembly and stamping plants in Warren and Sterling Heights.

An army of appointed union officials descended on the factories. If the workers rejected the contract, they threatened, workers could find themselves out of a job or involved in a long strike or lockout against intransigent and deep-pocketed Cerberus. With the implicit understanding that the UAW would do nothing to win such a struggle, many workers were persuaded to reluctantly accept the deal.

The threat of economic destitution is real, especially in the Detroit area. The metropolitan area has lost 126,000 jobs since 2000, in large measure due to the complicity of the UAW in the downsizing of the auto industry. The Detroit metro area has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, with thousands of home foreclosures each month. According to the Census Bureau, Wayne County, which includes Detroit, lost more people from the beginning of 2005 to the end of 2006 than any US county except the four counties in Louisiana and Mississippi devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

The national news media took note of the intensive “lobbying campaign” carried out by the UAW, which included sending top officials to the shop floor and issuing emails and leaflets to all Chrysler workers. The Washington Post wrote, “On the line, Aaron Devers, 47, who works at Sterling Heights Assembly, found himself buttonholed by one of the half-dozen committeemen from the United Auto Workers who were trying to win him over. ‘They are saying it’s a good contract and it’s the best they can get,’ Devers said. ‘But everybody thinks it’s a bad deal. People are afraid of it.’”

The assembly plant was particularly targeted after UAW Local 1700 President Bill Parker opposed the contract, saying Chrysler had refused to provide guarantees it would produce future products at Sterling Heights Assembly or most other factories. The UAW denounced opponents for spreading “misinformation” and sent UAW Vice President General Holiefield to meet with 60 of the local officials—without Parker—where he made it clear that it was in their best interests to support the contract.

Holiefield had previously sent a letter to all appointed local officials, which he demanded be returned with a signature pledging support for the contract. This was a thinly veiled threat to thousands of officials on the International union’s gravy train that they could lose their salaries and end up back on the assembly line if they didn’t go all-out for the contract.

When the vote was completed Wednesday night, 65 percent of the workers at the Sterling Heights Assembly plant approved the deal and the UAW was able to push its contract through at all four Detroit-area Chrysler plants.

Labor contractors

A retired Chrysler worker and former union committeeman described the process to the WSWS. “There are a lot of appointees on the local level whose positions must be approved by the International, like those involved with PQI (Product Quality Improvement) and other jointness programs.”

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and his Administration Caucus had established “a miniature political party inside the union that parallels the Democratic Party’s ward system,” he said. “Like precinct captains, these appointees stay in touch with the people and if they do a good job they get rewarded with a position or get ‘lost time,’” he said, referring to the system in which union officials get time off from work for “union business” while still receiving their pay.

“It is a very well structured patronage system,” he added. “If you promote their view on things, you get a few crumbs off the table. To the rank and file it appears very innocent, like they are just promoting the union. But when a crisis comes and there is a deviation between what the membership and leadership wants this structure is called in. They go out and follow orders, in this case to pass this contract, by any means. If they don’t they are likely to lose these small, and in some cases not so small, privileges.”

Referring to UAW Local 140 at the Warren Truck assembly plant, which voted to approve the deal by a large margin Wednesday, he said, “Holiefield ran the information meeting. They play on anything. If they can make someone afraid about losing their job, they will intimidate. Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Remember, I got your job back for you—it’s payback time.’ They have all the mechanisms to use.

“In some places, especially away from Detroit, their hold is weaker. In places like Kokomo and St. Louis the rank and file found it easier to express themselves. In Detroit, however, it was easier for them to put out the fires. They are firemen, that’s all.”

He continued, “The corporations know they are paying for featherbedding, but they need a structure that is inside the workforce to control it. It’s very insidious. Instead of paying a Harry Bennett and ex-cons and murderers to brutally intimidate the workforce, they pay these guys to be the structure, to promote company unionism.

“I call them labor contractors,” he concluded, comparing them to so-called coyotes who smuggle undocumented immigrants across the Mexican border to deliver them to their bosses in the US. “‘Hey boss, how much you going to pay me to deliver these guys?’—that’s what they’re like. They transport them in the back of semi-truck without water or food. Some of them make it, some don’t.”

Union dissidents

For their part, Local 1700 President Parker and the other dissidents associated with the New Directions faction of the UAW bureaucracy offered no serious resistance to Gettelfinger and Solidarity House. From the beginning Parker’s criticisms of the contract were couched in appeals to Gettelfinger to sign a contract with Chrysler that included the so-called job guarantees included in the General Motors-UAW contract. If the union got these agreements, Parker said, it would garner support from local leaders and the general membership.

In fact the so-called commitments GM made were worth no more than the scores of other “job security” deals over the last three decades, during which time Detroit’s Big Three automakers eliminated 600,000 union jobs. In the two weeks since the agreement with GM was approved the company has announced the indefinite layoff of 2,600 workers at plants in Detroit, Pontiac and Lansing.

On the eve of the vote Holiefield suddenly announced the existence of a previously undisclosed “secret” agreement with Chrysler committing it to build products at the Sterling Heights plant until at least 2016. While workers met this claim with skepticism and disbelief, the opposition from the Local 1700 leadership all but melted away.

The most destructive illusion Parker and the other dissidents promoted is that workers can transform the UAW into an instrument to defend their interests through rank-and-file pressure. The present contract and the undemocratic methods of the bureaucracy, they claim, are just blemishes on an otherwise healthy organization.

But the GM and Chrysler agreements are not an unexpected or surprise development. They are the product of more than three decades of degeneration, in which the UAW has sought to integrate itself into the structure of corporate management. While auto workers have suffered repeated setbacks, the UAW bureaucracy has insulated itself from the financial impact of the loss of hundreds of thousands of dues-paying jobs through the establishment of scores of labor-management structures.

In response to globalization and the outsourcing of jobs to lower wage regions of the country and the world, the UAW worked with management to transform the US auto industry into a cheap labor haven in order to retain investments and preserve dues income.

The setting up of the VEBA trust fund is the culmination of this process. The union is now being transformed into a profit-making business—which would be better known as “UAW Inc.”—that will give Gettelfinger and his cronies millions, while they slash the health-care benefits of retirees and their families.

Among the most politically conscious workers there is a growing recognition that the UAW does not represent them. In the coming months auto workers will come into direct confrontation with the UAW, as it seeks to implement the most reactionary labor agreement in history.

The prerequisite of any serious struggle against the corporate bosses is a decisive break with this outlived and corrupt organization and the construction of new organizations of struggle, which will unite auto workers in the US and internationally against the global auto giants. Above all this means the building of a political movement of the working class against the profit system and the two big business parties that defend it, in order to advance a program that defends the interests of working people, not the wealthy elite.


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