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It was the hottest Senate race in the country – and Donna Lang was right in the middle of it.
“It was fun, but it was hard work,” says Lang, a member of UAW Local 919, who lives in Chesapeake, Va. A veteran CAP (Community Action Program) activist, she volunteered full time to help labor-endorsed candidates last fall while her plant – Ford’s Norfolk Assembly – was idled.
“Some mornings you had to be at a workplace by 4 a.m. The transit workers and the longshoremen, they all start pretty early.”
Lang and other volunteers visited union members on the job and in their homes, made phone calls and attended campaign rallies. One of the races she worked hardest on was UAW-endorsed Senate candidate Jim Webb, the populist former Secretary of the Navy whose razor-thin win against incumbent Republican George Allen wasn’t final until two days after the election.
“It was like a roller coaster,” recalls Lang. “We were watching Webb and he was winning, and then he would fall down a bit, then he would come back up again.”
Webb’s victory put Democrats in control of the Senate by a slim 51-49 margin. He won by just over 9,000 votes out of more than 2 million cast, a margin of three-tenths of 1 percent.
“I did feel like I changed quite a few people who weren’t going to vote,” she says. “They didn’t feel like there was a need to vote. You have to listen to them, and find out what they’re interested in first.”
Top issues included jobs, the war in the Middle East, the price of gas, and – especially for retirees – the rising cost of health care.
Voters’ demand for a change in direction reached to some unlikely places. In Texas, one of the reddest states in the union, Democrats swept all 47 local offices in Dallas County, knocking out more than 40 Republican incumbents.
Local victories for labor-endorsed county judges will make a real difference in the lives of working people, says Steve Tillery, a former member of UAW Local 870 who is now executive secretary of the Dallas County Democratic Party. “If a worker gets injured and they
have to go to court,” he says, “at least they’ll have somebody that is going to be more fair, and not bought and paid for by the insurance industry.”
Labor-backed issues, as well as labor-backed candidates, were successful at the polls last November. Proposals to raise the state minimum wage were on the ballot in six states, and voters approved every one of the proposals.
Low-wage workers in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio will be entitled to a raise. The new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says it’s time to raise the federal minimum wage as well. She has pledged a vote on the issue during the first 100 hours of the new Congress.
This time last year it looked like Boeing’s C-17 cargo jet was being grounded.
But UAW Local 148 members who build the plane in Long Beach, Calif., dug in their heels and said “not so fast.”
The Bush administration had decided to shut down production of the aircraft in 2008, based on a classified Pentagon report that said no more were needed. The Air Force – and the UAW – begged to differ.
When Boeing officials assured Local 148 President Jacki Harris, “We have people in Washington,” she quickly responded, “So does the UAW. Not only that, we have people all over the country who will get out and fight for one another, and we have confidence in our Congressional leadership.”
That confidence was well-placed, on all accounts.
“Our members wrote letters, sister locals wrote letters, vendors wrote letters, politicians wrote letters,” said George Burden, the local’s political director.
According to Burden, “There were only 10 or 12 people who didn’t want to build this airplane,” which would be a piddling number except it included Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George Bush.
On the other side with the workers were countless supporters of the plane and the key role it plays in national defense and homeland security, including politicians from both political parties.
U.S. Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Calif., got 148 members of Congress across party lines to sign a letter to Bush. She also tapped the president on the shoulder as he made his way through the House chamber for the State of the Union address last January. “Don’t forget the C-17,” she told him. On his way out she caught his eye and he told her, “I heard you the first time.”
Lots of people heard about it.
“I broke out the whole membership by ZIP code,” Burden said, “and I’d go to them and tell them, ‘This is your congressional representative. This is who you need to write.’ ”
They responded, writing hundreds of letters. “Every time there was a layoff, we faxed the layoff list to every member of Congress from California,” Burden said.
The grassroots efforts paid off. Congress put the C-17 back in the 2007 budget in September, approving production of 22 planes for the Air Force.
Other buyers lined up for the world’s top-quality transport plane: four each for NATO, Australia and Canada; two for Sweden, one for the U.K. “All of that,” Harris said, “should fund the C-17 production line through 2010.”
Which means there’s no rest for the weary victors. The next round is convincing Congress to fund more C-17s in 2008, according to Jim Wells, director of UAW Region 5, which includes Long Beach.
“We need you to keep fighting the good fight,” Wells told Local 148 members, to keep pressure on Congress, the Department of Defense and “all of the representatives who ask for support from unions at election time.”
There’s a lot at stake – not only the 2,100 union jobs in the plant but untold other beneficiaries. “In a natural disaster we are always the first one in there,” said Burden. “The C-17 was the first in the tsunami, and the first to deliver help in Katrina.”
The success story also is a testament to member donations to V-CAP. “The V-CAP checkoff gives us the resources we need to lobby to save our jobs,” said Harris.
They negotiated themselves a first-ever pension plan, solidified their health care and won dramatic wage increases.
The benefits of organizing were immediate for workers at C.R. Motor Sales in Hudson, Mich. They negotiated their first contract in late 2005 and became part of the growing trend of auto dealership workers who are joining the UAW.
“It’s a good fit because it has given us stability. I hope it brings us lots of business,” said Kim Berkshire, a warranty claims administrator and member of the bargaining committee for the 12-person unit, which is a part of UAW Local 963. “I think union people are very dedicated and I think they will come to a dealership that is unionized.”
The first contract included wage increases from more than 7 percent to 15 percent, depending on the worker’s classification, which includes the sales staff, as well as service technicians, clerical and warranty and accounting workers.
This year workers in Michigan at BMW of Ann Arbor and Mercedes of Ann Arbor and at Royal Oak Ford, chose UAW representation, as did those at Mathews Ford in Oregon, Ohio. Workers at three auto dealerships in New York City – Potamkin Hummer Cadillac, Chevrolet Saturn of Harlem and Big Apple Ford – also chose the UAW. The union now represents workers at auto dealerships in Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“Workers at auto dealerships see UAW membership as a natural fit,” said Vice President Terry Thurman, who directs the union’s National Organizing Department. “They know how union representation has benefited and protected their brothers and sisters in the plants where their products are made.”
Arleen Hunter’s workday begins at 5:30 a.m. when the first two children arrive at her door. Another two kids come at 6:30. She’ll pick up the 4-year-old from Head Start at 11:30. By 4 p.m., nine children, ages 8 months to 11 years, are “Arleen’s Darlings.”
They’ll participate in activities that include Spanish lessons, reading, computers, plays and puppet shows, art, music and dance. They’ll get help with homework, go on field trips, and have free time – but no TV. Hunter won’t allow it.
Her day will end after midnight when the last parents come to collect their sleeping children from Hunter’s home on the near-west side of Detroit. “My passion, my calling, is with children,” she said.
But even the strongest of passions, Hunter has discovered, can’t overcome dismal economics. It’s impossible to provide the quality of care that children deserve, she said, when the state of Michigan pays her just $1.80 per hour per child – a payment that has not been raised in 10 years. That’s why she recently became a member of Child Care Providers Together Michigan (CCPTM), a joint effort of the UAW and AFSCME.
Hunter and her co-workers, who are spread out in communities across the state, scored a major victory in November when the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) certified a majority of them had voted for union representation. The new bargaining unit will include some 40,000 home-based child care providers.
The new members are a perfect fit with the UAW, said UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn. “Our union has represented public sector workers in Michigan for more than 20 years, and we’ve got members across the country working in child care and early childhood education,” said Bunn, who heads the union’s Technical, Office and Professional (TOP) Organizing Department.
“These workers are providing a critical service, but they’re not getting the pay and respect they deserve,” said UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles, who directs servicing for UAW TOP workers. “This is exactly where the UAW needs to be: supporting families in low-income communities, and raising the standards in workplaces of every description.”
The providers who are part of the new bargaining unit are paid through state and federal funds from the Child Care Development Fund, a national program that provides assistance to help low-income parents enter and remain in the workforce. A newly formed public partnership, the Michigan Home-Based Child Care Council (MHBCC), will set policy and develop programs for home-based child care providers.
“I thought a union could really help us,” said Hunter, who first attended a meeting of home-based child care providers in the summer of 2005. “I work seven days a week and most holidays, because some of the parents work in retail or fast food. I don’t get sick days, I don’t get personal days.”
Donna Seidl, also a member of CCPTM, started out caring for her grandchildren when her daughter couldn’t find quality, affordable child care. Around the same time, Seidl lost her job. “So I got my license and decided to try it for a year. Well that was nine years ago, and here I am.” Seidl cares for four children, ages 1 to 4, at her home in Lansing, Mich.
Seidl attended meetings, phone banked and spoke at events to help generate union support among home-based child care workers, building up to the successful vote last November. “I want this so badly because the children need it,” she said. “They need the quality of the care they can get by us being in a union.”
High turnover in the industry is a major problem for low-income workers looking for affordable child care. “If we don’t do something to help these young mothers, they’re not
going to be able to afford child care,” said Seidl. “And if they can’t find good child care, they’re going to fall back on state welfare.”
Seidl said the union will help home-based child care improve pay and benefits, as well as raise training and education standards so they can provide better care. “Who can do it alone – me speaking up here and someone else speaking out over there? Speaking as a group gives us a much better voice,” she said.
On Nov. 21 and Dec. 14, Ron participated in the first live discussions with UAW members on our Web site. There were two sessions each time so we could include different work shifts. Check www.uaw.org for announcements on future events.
Following are excerpts from the Nov. 21 discussion, which attracted more than 500 participants:
Liverpool, N.Y.: Do you think we will get a national health plan now that the Democrats are going to take control of both houses? I’m retired and a caregiver for my 88-year-old mom.
Ron: Our union has been fighting for a national health care program since the days of Walter Reuther. We are the only industrialized nation without a national health care program. We spend $2 trillion – or 16 percent – of the GDP on health care, and yet we leave nearly 47 million uninsured and many more underinsured. The time for action is now. Write mem-bers of Congress, who you provide health care for, and encourage them to begin discussions on this issue.
Kokomo, Ind.: Can you please tell us any info you have on the supposedly continuous ongoing negotiations between Delphi, UAW and GM?
Ron: You can check our Web site for the Delphi Update. Our union has been available to meet with the corporation at any time – day or night – but honestly, at this time there has been very little discussion. We will continue to keep the Web site updated. And additionally, Vice President (Cal) Rapson communicates directly with the Delphi local union leadership on a regular basis.
Detroit: Have you been briefed on the meeting between President Bush and the Big Three leaders?
Ron: Yes. I think it’s a disgrace that the president put off holding this meeting until November of this year. The auto industry is the greatest engine of economic activity in our nation. The Big Three employ eight out of 10 American autoworkers, and they purchase 80 percent of the parts that are manufactured in the U.S. and Canada. The domestic content of vehicles assembled by the Big Three is 76 percent. The auto executives were not asking for a handout. They were striving for a level playing field which our industry needs. Fortunately, I think they finally got their hearing, but only time will tell if it fell on deaf ears.
Warren, Mich.: Who do you think is the greatest labor leader of all time?
Ron: Walter Reuther.
Mason, Ohio: Is the UAW attempting to bring union representation into foreign companies operating in the United States, such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan?
Ron: Yes. Workers can contact our Organizing Department through this Web site (www.uaw.org).
Marshall, Mich.: How can we as unions work together collectively to prevent more division and come together to create a more solid union movement?
Ron: It was gratifying to see all of the unions, as well as support groups, working together to elect candidates who support the cause of all workers. Those of us in leadership positions need to let go of our egos and work toward a common goal of helping not only our union brothers and sisters, but also the nonunion workers. I think you will continue to see this kind of strength as we take on issues like minimum wage, the Employee Free Choice Act, Fairness and Accountability in Bankruptcy Reorganization, health care, trade and protecting our seniors.
At an age most people find it hard to get started, Helen Wylie can’t slow down.
After putting in “42.7 years” building starters and distributors at the Visteon Ypsilanti (Mich.) plant, the retired Statistical Process Control specialist and Local 849 member has traded in her work shoes for cowboy boots and the shop floor for a stage.
She is a proud member of Boots in Motion, a 13-member line dancing troupe that performs regularly at senior homes and union retiree meetings in southeast Michigan.
One of the group’s latest gigs was a political rally at neighboring UAW Local 735 in western Wayne County. “When we perform in a union hall, we like to dance to songs like ‘Crazy ‘Bout a Mercury’ and ‘Pink Cadillac,’ ” Wylie says.
Even if there were songs singing the praises of nonunion-made vehicles, Boots in Motion wouldn’t be caught dead dancing to them. Ten of the 13 dancers have a UAW or other union connection.
With raising four kids and now grandmother to 14 and great-grandmother to nine, it’s a wonder Wylie ever had time to learn how to line dance.
“Before I joined the group, I was active with my family, my union’s community services committee, my church work and my competitive roller skating. It’s like figure skating but without the ice,” she says.
Lisa Tierce, an assembler at ZF Lemforder in Tuscaloosa, Ala., went through two shoulder surgeries within two years.
She tore her rotator cuff on the job, creating nerve damage in her shoulder so severe she could not make a fist.
Adding insult to injury, management at ZF – which is a supplier to the Mercedes plant in Vance, Ala. – terminated Tierce in 1999, using the excuse that they didn’t want to injure her any further.
In fact, Tierce was targeted by the company because of her strong support for her co-workers during a union organizing drive. With assistance from the UAW, Tierce filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, and she returned to work in 2000. By that time ZF workers had won union recognition, and Tierce now serves as a first-shift steward.
“The injury rate was so high back then and they just kept sending people back to work without even trying to adjust the work areas or jobs,” said Tierce.
“After people ended up so broken down that they couldn’t do the jobs anymore, management would tell us that maybe we needed to find another line of work.”
When workers organized a union at ZF and sat down for first contract negotiations, health and safety was a critical issue. The company continued to use an outside consulting firm to evaluate the workplace, but union bargainers demanded better and safer work standards.
A breakthrough finally came after the latest round of negotiations in 2006. A joint ergonomics committee was established, and now there’s language to protect ZF workers.
“Who knows these jobs better than us? They finally listened to our arguments,” said Tierce. “I didn’t want my injury to happen to anyone else.
“Before we had a union, they just cursed at people when they couldn’t keep up. We changed the way they treat us.”
The joint ergonomics committee now has input from the workers on the shop floor as well as managers.
Jobs are now routinely evaluated for safety and ergonomics to reduce stress on the body. Some jobs that once were done by only one person are now done by two.
“Having the union showed people that the company couldn’t get away with what they did to me. That made a lot of difference to a lot of people,” said Tierce.
“Things are better now – and they’re going to keep getting better.”
When does a newspaper cease to be an impartial reporter of a labor strike? When said newspaper accepts money for want ads to hire strike-breaking scabs and prolongs the suffering of those on strike.
Some time ago the York Sunday News quoted a woman who said she felt bad crossing a “friend’s” picket line. I have news for her: She has no friends on the line. I have seen life-long friendships dissolved because of people crossing the lines at Grinnell and Caterpillar.
If money is your God, then by all means cross. However, if you value your reputation and friendships, leave. There are other jobs. Some are listed in the same paper that published the scab ads.
Thomas J. “Tip” Larkin
UAW Local 786
As a relative of someone receiving Solidarity, I have something to contribute. Two issues need a spotlight in order for our vote to count and if we want to change the current state of affairs.
Electronic voting machines are the death knell of the voting process. As computer specialists know, computer technology allows manipulation. Ballots that you fill out and are hand counted sound unfamiliar to us, but having observers and counters who exchange roles with the process videotaped and results publicly posted at each polling place is what we need to ensure the process.
Voting activists around the country are now saying they do not trust their vote to an electronic machine. Even the touted solution of a voter-verified paper trail won’t ensure your vote is tallied correctly.
Media control has slid into the hands of four or five corporations holding 85 percent to 90 percent of the media, TV, radio, newspapers and Internet news services. The destruction to these foundations of our country is greater than many realize.
What to do? Do more to question news coverage as to slant. And protect the vote process before you vote – if you really want change, that is.
Apparently I wear the UAW logo enough that people are used to seeing me in it. I have been kidded by friends when I go to a party or poker game: “Hey, where’s your union shirt?”
One day we were driving past a UAW local. Sitting in his car seat, my 2-year-old son started saying “Daddy’s people” over and over. I didn’t give it much thought until we reached our destination, a restaurant. As we were being seated, I hung my coat over the back of my chair and turned to help my son into his high chair. He pointed at the UAW logo on back of my jacket and said again, “Daddy’s people.”
I swear I had tears of pride in this father’s eyes. I said, “Yes, you’re right! Those are ‘my people.’ Which one are you?” He pointed to one of the child figures. I said, “Well, then this must be me, and this must be mommy.” He agreed and always points to the same area every time he looks for “us” on the UAW logo.
All is not lost. Our future is paying attention. We just have to listen for it.
UAW Local 845, CAP chair
Don Johns (Local 22 member, September-October 2006 Solidarity) said it correctly when he hoped every red-blooded patriot in the union ranks would vote to throw the Republicans out. I hear it at my plant, too, about gun control and abortions – issues that are brought up at election time to sway votes on a single issue.
After having read “Putting the World Together, My Father Walter Reuther: The Liberal Warrior,” by Elisabeth Reuther Dickmeyer, and “Our Endangered Moral Values,” by Jimmy Carter, one fully understands the union is not just wages and benefits but, most importantly, a social cause.
Walter Reuther built the middle class in this country, and I take his advice that the ballot box is directly connected to the bread box. I am not swayed by issues brought up whose sole purpose is to sway voters from voting for candidates who support the union cause and the middle class.
Carolyn S. Lewis
UAW Local 735
Vol. 50, No. 1-2
International Union, UAW
President: Ron Gettelfinger
Secretary-treasurer: Elizabeth Bunn
Vice presidents: General Holiefield, Bob King, Cal Rapson, Jimmy Settles, Terry Thurman
Regional directors: Joseph Peters, 1; Rory Gamble, 1A; Duane Zuckschwerdt, 1C; Don Oetman, 1D; Lloyd Mahaffey, 2B; Maurice Davison, 3; Dennis Williams, 4; Jim Wells, 5; Gary Casteel, 8; Joe Ashton, 9; Bob Madore, 9A
Public Relations and Publications Department
Director: Roger Kerson
Assistant director: Christine Moroski
International representatives: Sandra Davis, Emily Everett, John Hammond, Gwynne Marie Cobb, Jennifer John, Vince Piscopo, Sam Stark, members of CWA/The Newspaper Guild Local 34022.
Solidarity magazine editor: Jennifer John
Clerical staff: Shelly Restivo, Susan Fisher and Pauline Mitchell, members of OPEIU Local 494.
Solidarity (USPS 0740610) is published bimonthly by International Union, UAW, 8000 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit, MI 48214, (313) 926-5000, www.uaw.org.
Readers: Send address changes and old label to UAW Circulation Department, or e-mail email@example.com. Include old address and numeric identification number (line above the name on the mailing label). For circulation, call (313) 926-5373; for editorial, call (313) 926-5291 or
It was at the Reuther family home on Wetzel Street in Wheeling, W.Va., that Walter, Victor and Roy learned how to debate.
Every Sunday their father Valentine, a staunch union activist, would assign the boys a subject. The future leaders of the UAW would do research at the local library, preparing whichever side they were given.
“You cannot effectively argue your own view on an issue unless you understand the viewpoint of those who oppose you,” their father said.
Once nestled against a hill near an old mine shaft, the Reuther family home has since made way for West Virginia Route 2.
Luckily, UAW members and local unions can own a piece of history and help maintain the Walter Reuther Memorial, dedicated in Wheeling in October.
For a $300 donation, you’ll receive a sidewalk paving brick from the home at 3640 Wetzel. Each brick, which is engraved with the UAW logo and an original “I Did It For Walter” button, is numbered and comes with a letter of authenticity.
Donations will help preserve the larger-than-life statue of Reuther in shirtsleeves, gesturing as if speaking to a crowd.
A list of brick purchases will be archived at Wayne State University in Detroit.