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You’ve heard these words said a lot these days: “economic justice.”
It’s that somewhat intangible concept trade union activists fight for day in and day out.
But what is economic justice about, really? It’s about narrowing the wealth gap between rich and poor.
It’s about providing good-paying jobs and a stable income for working families.
It’s about generating money in the communities where we live and work.
It’s about fairness.
Economic justice may be difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.
And you know it when you don’t.
In this issue of Solidarity, we take a look back at some key bargaining achievements in 2011 and how this builds our overall power to win economic justice in the long term for our members.
We focus on four sectors of UAW-represented workplaces: the auto industry, gaming, public employees and health care.
The UAW is the union for America’s auto workers, representing more than 100,000 working men and women at U.S. auto assembly, stamping, engine and powertrain plants.
Hundreds of thousands of retired workers and surviving spouses are also part of the UAW, with pensions and health benefits negotiated as part of UAW contracts.
UAW members produce top-quality cars, trucks, SUVs and crossovers for a number of manufacturers, including Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Mazda and Mitsubishi.
More than 8,800 gaming industry workers are members of the UAW across six states, including Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
From casino dealers and slot technicians, to keno and simulcast workers in Detroit and Atlantic City, we are the UAW.
Foxwoods Casino and Resorts in Connecticut is one of the largest casinos in the world. Also in 2007, dealers, full- and part-time dual rates, and slot technicians organized at four major casinos in Atlantic City: Bally’s, Caesars, Trump and Tropicana.
More than 50,000 public sector workers are UAW members, providing top- quality public services in every conceivable occupation. UAW members drive ambulances in California, pilot ships on the waters off Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, fight fires in Grand Rapids, Mich., and tend zoo animals in Lansing.
The UAW membership is far more diverse than can be described in any single list of categories. Our Technical, Office and Professional (TOP) members are attorneys, industrial designers, librarians, museum curators, journalists, TV reporters and camera operators, and much more.
The UAW is the union of choice for thousands of America’s health care workers throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.
UAW members work as nurses, respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, health aides and fill many other critical positions in community hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and vision care facilities. We work in facilities as varied as a medical office inside an auto plant in Sharonville, Ohio; a medical communications company in Kokomo, Ind., and a community hospital in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico.
As reported in last issue’s recap of UAW negotiations with domestic automakers, the union showed that collective bargaining works – for the companies, for the workers and for America. By giving workers a voice, we can create jobs, rebuild the American manufacturing sector and restore the American middle class.
Throughout the 2011 negotiations with the three domestic automakers, UAW members put greater priority on winning jobs for our communities and strengthening America more than on their own economics.
A major breakthrough for UAW members at General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC was the transparency in the formula for profit sharing, which was simplified but maintained economic gains for the membership. In addition, the ratified agreements included jobs, investment and product guarantees.
At GM, the new agreement was ratified by UAW members on Sept. 28 and made significant progress toward the union’s goal of equal pay for equal work by increasing wages for entry-level workers over the term of the contract. In addition, GM announced the creation of 6,400 jobs, including the reopening of its Spring Hill, Tenn., plant with production of two mid-size vehicles.
“We never gave up on the former Saturn plant or our workers,” said UAW Vice President Joe Ashton, who directs the union’s GM Department.
UAW Ford members ratified their agreement in mid-October, and Chrysler members followed suit later that month.
The Ford agreement creates or brings 5,750 manufacturing jobs – with union pay and benefits – back to the United States from China, Mexico and Japan.
“Workers will see significant gains in profit sharing … and we were also able to increase entry-level wages over the term of the agreement,” said UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles, who directs the union’s Ford Department.
For Chrysler, which declared bankruptcy in 2009, the announcement of 2,100 jobs was nothing short of miraculous.
“Less than three years ago, Chrysler was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy as our nation was thrown into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” said UAW Vice President General Holiefield, who directs the union’s Chrysler Department. “Today, we are proud to say that because of the sacrifice and dedication of our UAW Chrysler members, the company has turned the corner.”
UAW Local 1700 member Ron Hicks wants consumers to know that he and all of his Big Three union brothers and sisters build some of the best vehicles in the world.
“Quality means everything; it’s our lifeline,” said Hicks, a launch team leader at Chrysler’s Sterling Heights (Mich.) Assembly Plant. “Quality products keep us all selling cars.”
Gaming is a growing multi-billion dollar industry that boasts more casinos in the United States than in any other country in the world. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when gaming and casinos were dirty words that rallied legislators and citizens alike against their arrival. With casinos, they believed, came blight, suffering and crime to their communities.
Today, however, with casinos in 35 states and growing, they are helping to rebuild America’s economy by boosting jobs and tax revenue for state and local communities.
Over the years, as casinos have continued to be built across the country and more and more money was brought in, gaming workers began thinking that the trickle down of these profits should also come to them so they could create a better life for themselves and their families.
Again, all part of that economic justice idea.
In Detroit in 1999, casino workers wanted the same fair and equitable security that so many other workers from other industries had with union representation and soon, at Motown’s three casinos – Greektown, MGM and MotorCity – workers joined together to organize through the Detroit Casino Council. This council was put together by the UAW, UNITEHERE, the Teamsters and the Operating Engineers to organize all workers in these casinos. In this council, the UAW represents dealers, cage clerks, slot technicians and pit clerks, marking the first time in history that dealers in the United States won union recognition.
This new relationship eventually inspired the organizing of casino workers in other states, including Connecticut, Indiana and New Jersey.
In Connecticut, workers at Foxwoods Resort and Casino, the largest gaming casino in the United States, were the first organized under tribal law at a Native American-owned casino, winning their first contract in 2010.
In New Jersey, thousands of workers at casinos in Atlantic City organized in 2007, waging contract battles for first agreements. Dealers at Tropicana Casino and Resort were the first to win a contract, and were followed last year by a contract victory for dealers at Caesars Atlantic City.
In 2011, with the success of first contracts in Atlantic City, Connecticut and beyond, and gaming contracts expiring in other locations, the UAW bargained hard for casino workers to get signing bonuses and wage increases while preventing cost-sharing hikes that casino management wanted to impose on workers. New contract agreements were reached throughout the year at Detroit’s three casinos.
Meanwhile, in Evansville, Ind., the table games dealers of Casino Aztar reached an agreement with Tropicana Entertainment and signed their first agreement this year as a unit of UAW Local 3048.
In 2012, there will be a continued focus on organizing efforts at more and more gaming venues. This year also brings new negotiations to some expiring contracts, such as Foxwoods.
As the success of casinos continues to grow, so will the UAW’s efforts at winning economic just at more gaming industry workplaces.
In Michigan, UAW Local 6000 represents about 17,000 members at 1,200 worksites throughout the state who are committed to providing quality services to the citizens of the state.
However, just like thousands of other public sector workers over the last year, they were vilified by right-wing politicians across the country and in the state’s Republican Legislature. Their goal was simple: weaken workers’ job and retirement security, slash social safety net programs to fund tax cuts for corporations and already well-compensated CEOs, and gut or eliminate collective bargaining rights. Michigan’s public sector workers were facing cuts in a state that had recently awarded its corporations more than $1 billion in tax breaks with no job creation requirements.
Against that backdrop, for the first time, Local 6000 joined with public sector workers from the State of Michigan’s four other unions to stand firm against the injustices threatened by state negotiators through major wage and benefit cuts.
The UAW and other state employee unions – AFSCME, MSEA, MCO and SEIU 517M – demanded to bargain over economics as a coalition and began negotiations in September. Individual unit bargaining on noneconomic issues began in the summer and continued into the fall.
The historic coordinated bargaining effort – led by UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who directs the union’s Public Sector and Health Care Servicing Department – showed how unwavering solidarity can result in positive outcomes for unionized employees, even in the face of strong opposition from state negotiators who sought to freeze step increases, eliminate longevity, drastically reduce overtime pay opportunities, and eviscerate union representation and service time for our members.
The coalition made it clear that the days of coming after workers for savings without addressing the real structural problems in the state were over.
“Both sides worked hard to reach an agreement that recognizes the value of state employees who work on the front lines every day for Michigan’s citizens and the need for shared sacrifice as the state addresses its budgetary challenges,” said Estrada. “The agreement contains groundbreaking provisions that require the parties to work together on new solutions to address long¬standing structural operational inefficiencies and identify health care reforms that could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.”
With contracts covering 35,000 state employees, these union members achieved 1 percent wage increases in 2012 and 2013, lump-sum bonuses and a commitment that could lead to the potential implementation of innovative new reforms sought by workers. They also gained a historic Letter of Understanding that puts them at the table with management to work on building more efficient and effective work processes that make sense for state employees and the citizens they serve. The letter recognizes the importance of a joint effort to explore and implement innovative solutions to longstanding operational problems which result in extraordinarily high caseloads, as well as overworked and stressed workers.
Another crucial part of the agreement is that Michigan’s state employees now have a reopener clause that allows the coalition to bargain over wages if the Michigan Legislature votes for a raise of its elected members.
In the fall, 2,700 UAW-represented Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan workers were among the countless union members ready to negotiate a labor agreement in a climate overtly threatening America’s workers with deep concessions and takeaways.
“There were no illusions about what our members were up against, but we also understood that this was a time to remain focused on strategic solutions that would potentially hold off the considerable amounts of cost sharing that many other employers are shifting to their employees,” said UAW Vice President Settles, who also directs the union’s Technical, Office and Professional (TOP) Servicing Department.
Negotiators also faced concerns about outsourcing and its impact on families and communities; work rules and work environment issues affecting members of Michigan UAW Locals 2256 (Lansing), 1781 (Southfield), 2500 (Detroit and 2145 (Grand Rapids).
UAW members emerged from tough negotiations by ratifying a 95 percent vote in favor of a contract delivering significant economic improvements, including for the first time, lump-sum payments to workers at the maximum of their pay scale. Negotiators also gained improvements in dental, vision and innovative ways to offset insurance premiums that give them better protections from considerable costs in health care when they need it most.
Also, there is now an incentive payout plan for members in each year of the contract when corporate goals are met. The four-year agreement also increased dental and vision benefits and provides innovative ways to offset insurance premiums. Those are the kind of gains that better protect workers from considerable costs in health care when they need it most.
“We negotiated an agreement that helps our members remain vital in their communities, [and] that is the kind of economic justice that workers need and deserve,” said Settles. “Just as important as a paycheck and a health care card is whether a worker can feed a family and support his or her community.”
Sandra Davis, Jennifer John, Denn Pietro, Mona Copeland and John Weyer contributed to this story. Copeland and Weyer are assigned to the UAW-Chrysler Technology and Training Center in Detroit.