6/7/08

UAW strikers divided v. General Dynamics

Replacement workers anger union officials

General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products officials and the United Auto Workers/United Defense Workers of America Local 2850 negotiating team are scheduling a meeting in the next several days to try again to resolve the disagreement that resulted in a two-month long Marion strike, union president Gary Blevins said late Thursday.

“We’re going to sit down with the company next week,” he said.

Blevins sounded optimistic about a third round of talks with the company. The first negotiations ended April 11 at the conclusion of one contract. That’s when union members voted down its replacement and went on strike. On May 10, the unions declined to ratify a new proposal.

The strikers said the contracts weakened seniority provisions, cuts pensions, raised insurance premiums and employees’ costs for prescriptions drugs.

“I think we’re going to be able to work this out,” Blevins said.

The difficulty now, he said, was in finding a time available to company officials and union members who will meet with them, he said.

General Dynamics officials did not respond to a request Friday for confirmation of an upcoming meeting with union representatives.

Blevins’ hopes for resolution, he said, led him to decline to comment on a pair of letters, one from a company official, the other signed “A loyal but dissatisfied UAW member,” that reveal some measure of division in the ranks of union members on the strike.

The May 30 GDATP letter is unsigned but bears on its letterhead the name of Jim Losse, vice president and general manager of advanced materials. Senior Communication Director Gail Warner confirmed the letter as authentic Wednesday.

Losse’s letter, a copy of which was delivered by an unknown person to the News & Messenger office late Tuesday, is the first indication that union members have not necessarily stood united on the strike line.

“The agreement was accepted and unanimously endorsed by the Union bargaining committee. However, to date this has not resulted in a ratified agreement,” Losse’s letter said.

The anonymous letter, mailed to the News & Messenger, postmarked June 3 and handwritten on lined paper, corroborates Losse’s and illuminates the dissent. The writer said the “last offer was endorsed by the UWA and our reps, but we were told before the vote that our reps were forced to sign it. Which is why it was turned down.”

The unknown writer, who the letter said was speaking “for many General Dynamics union members,” wrote that their “anger is directed solely with the very people chosen to represent us,” and that the “negotiating committee seem to have their own personal goals in mind and have lost sight of the picture as a whole.”

“Nothing was wrong with the second offer we received from General Dynamics,” the letter said. “So the contract ends in November. All you can do is be prepared.”

Blevins said last month after the union voted down a proposed contract that the main drawback was the new contract’s term.

“It’s a 42-month contract instead of 36 months,” he said. “Nov. 11 [2011] is when it runs out. The membership would be facing cold weather, Christmas, and taxes. That would put the membership in a bad position to negotiate. They could bring a really trashy contract and we would be under pressure.”

Losse’s letter contains the first company verification of strikers’ repeated claims that General Dynamics has brought in temporary outside workers to continue plant operations during the strike.

“We acknowledge that you have the right to strike, but the company and the salaried workforce have a responsibility to continue to work to serve our customers and contracts,” Losse wrote. “Actions, therefore, are being taken to meet the needs of our customers and to ensure that we maintain a viable business base until we reach an agreement. You’ve already witnessed the arrival of temporary replacement workers. We will bring in more as needed to meet production schedules. This weekend, we will begin placing ads in local papers to recruit workers from the local area. You also have the right to participate by returning to work. That’s a choice you have to make as an individual.”

The anonymous letter writer also spoke of growing financial hardship for the union members. “Our reps evidently have not looked beyond their own goals to see that there are no jobs in this area,” the letter said. “We have single parents trying to raise kids, people caring for ageing [sic] parents and for long time now it has taken two incomes just to maintain a home. We have already lost much in wages and pension. We will never recover this loss.”

Blevins has said that despite cost of living increases brought about by higher food and fuel prices, the strike is not about money so much as about respect.
“We don’t want to roll over and lose what past memberships have worked so hard for. There are respect issues,” he said. “Respect is a big thing.”

The anonymous letter, written apparently without knowledge of a possible meeting next week, closed with an appeal for accepting a new contract that suggests money is an issue for some.

“Ratifying this last offer is not giving in – it’s making the best out of a failing economy and harder times ahead. We implore the union members to stand up for what you believe and let’s get back to work while we still have something to go back to.”
Blevins hopes that will be the outcome of the upcoming meeting.

(swvatoday.com)

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