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UAW Local 5286 member Troy Friday is a 17-year veteran of Freightliner LLC in Gastonia, N.C., where they make truck parts. A local union activist, the 43-year-old Friday also is education chair.
I have complete confidence in President Barack Obama and what he’s trying to get done for people without health care. I recall a couple of months ago, some dentists in Chicago offered free dental work for two days to anyone who did not have insurance. They were inundated with people from several states. It’s so obvious how many people in this country cannot afford health care, and this is the richest nation in the world. On the last day, one of doctors said he was saddened by how many people they had to turn away.
Our parts facility in Gastonia is building parts for that plant in Mexico, and that makes me sick. During our last negotiations, the company CEO said he was only building the facility in Mexico to take the overflow work from the Mt. Holly plant. … Now, they’re moving all that work to Mexico. If they can do that to the Mount Holly workers, then who’s next – us? We want the people to know if we go down, we will go down swinging.
You’ve probably seen Walmart’s red, white and blue ads touting how the world’s largest retail outlet will save your family money.
But there’s another story Walmart won’t tell you.
When Sam Walton opened his first store in the late 1940s in Newport, Ark., he developed a unique business model. By pressuring suppliers to give him their lowest prices and keeping his own store prices low, Walton was able to beat his competition and gain market share.
And he did it on the backs of workers.
Walton’s strategy was to hire as few people as possible, pay them as little as he could get away with and fight union organizing with a passion.
In the early 1960s, the minimum wage law was changed to include small businesses. Walton had been paying his workers, largely rural farmers seeking steady incomes, as little as 50 cents an hour. The newly mandated federal minimum wage was $1.15, and a federal court ordered Walton to pay back wages and double-time penalties.
Walmart cut the checks then Walton held meetings with all employees and told them, “I’ll fire anyone who cashes the check.”
In 1985, as Americans suffered through a recession, Walton launched his “Made in America” campaign, committing Walmart to buy American products if suppliers could get within 5 percent of an imported product’s price. (The reality is that most of the products sold at Walmart are imported.)
Fast forward to 2009.
A coalition of labor unions, including the UAW, wants to make Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, a responsible corporation.
Despite their ongoing public relations efforts, Walmart remains a company whose business is not about lower prices, but about more and more wealth for the Walton family heirs.
In a new “Wake up, Walmart” campaign, the UAW has joined the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) to stop the Arkansas-based mega-retailer from continuing to do what it does best: transforming our economy for the worse. This is how they do it:
• By dramatically changing the face of our communities by driving smaller “mom and pop” stores out of business.
• By systematically reducing workers’ benefits and using loopholes in labor laws to compel workers to resort to federal programs or expensive emergency rooms for their health care needs.
• By shifting jobs from U.S. cities and towns to under-regulated factories around the world.
• By shifting billions in employee health care costs to taxpayers and other employers.
• By paying workers average wages that won’t support a family.
• By systematically discriminating against women and minority workers.
On Labor Day, UFCW President Joe Hansen challenged Walmart to live up to its advertised image and develop a positive agenda for real change by working with labor, civil rights, community and faith organizations.
“No other private, for-profit enterprise in the history of America has had the economic impact of Walmart. ... The ‘Wake up Walmart’ campaign wants people to know that what happens to Walmart workers affects every American,” Hansen said.
The UFCW has worked for years with a coalition of labor unions to change Walmart’s labor practices, said Meagan Scott, campaign director. “Our campaign is simply designed to help Walmart become a better corporate citizen.”
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger acknowledged our union’s commitment to the UFCW campaign.
“The only way to change Walmart’s despicable, anti-worker practice is to pressure the company to become a better member of our communities. We have made dramatic changes in the way other companies have treated their workers, and we are determined to do that with Walmart,” he said.
UAW Local 892 President Mark Caruso recently mobilized his members to work with local businesses to stop Walmart from building near Saline, Mich.
“The UAW fights hard at the bargaining table for the good working conditions, wages and benefits that built the American middle class,” Caruso said. “Walmart’s anti-worker, anti-union business practices are doing exactly the opposite: paying workers part-time wages with no benefits. It’s a struggle we have to win, or we’ll all be making Walmart wages with no benefits.”
Members of UAW Local 551 from Ford Motor Co.’s Chicago Assembly Plant are always reminded of the community in which they work because it’s in a neighborhood with school-age children, working-class families and subsidized housing.
Aldridge Elementary is just a stone’s throw from Altgeld Gardens, America’s oldest housing project and a former stop on the Underground Railroad.
The school presents one step toward a brighter future for many students – and the local’s small but mighty Women’s Committee is there to offer steadying support.
This force of five (and counting) had made a difference in the lives of Aldridge students by donating two laptop computers, two learning devices and three backpacks fully loaded with every school supply imaginable.
The committee raised money to purchase the items by selling ice cream sundaes and baked goods, along with having hot dog and Polish sausage sales in the plant during lunch breaks.
“Women have that natural nurturing instinct. It’s part of us, and we want things to just be right,” said Francia Moss-Abbott, committee co-chair. “This is just something that I was meant to do. I’m here to serve. It gives me the energy to just keep going.”
Carlo Bishop, the local’s president, said taking advantage of their community presence to build relationships and mentor young people is a given.
“We want to showcase labor’s story for the students because it’s an integral part of America’s history, and it’s relevant on how the world functions today,” he said.
“The company has an automatic mouthpiece from the buildings to the cars on the roads. Labor has to be the face of the success of these outcomes,” Bishop added. “We are key to this process and the solutions. It’s time we tell our story.”
The local has also adopted a nearby highway and worked with Habitat for Humanity building houses. In addition, they will kick off the 33rd Annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in the coming weeks with a goal to raise $2,500 in honor of Felicia M. Flores-Perez, a Local 551 union sister who is recovering from breast cancer.
You might say volunteerism is as natural to William Dwyer as breathing. He lives to do it and does it to live.
Dwyer, or “Bill” to those who know him, isn’t just a UAW Local 571 member working at Electric Boat (EB) in Groton, Conn. He’s chair of the local’s Community Service/Recognition Committee, a community activist and a volunteer.
“I believe I’m here on this earth for a short time, and it’s my job to use that time to make a difference. If you can give back to your community and your friends, you should,” Dwyer said. “Since the 1970s, I have lived my life supporting my country in the military, our youth in Little League and my community through the United Way.”
Dwyer has worked since 2005 with the Gemma Moran Food Center in New London, Conn., organizing his fellow EB workers to stack, pack and load over 192 tons of food from the showroom floors of the two area casinos for the food bank. He and his co-workers have donated more than 1,000 hours of labor to get the food into the community where it’s needed.
He’s also active with the Southeastern United Way, one of the only unionized United Ways in the Northeast. And he’s helped coordinate EB’s annual drive to help raise a record-setting $1.5 million last year alone. Dwyer also has coordinated several “Day of Caring” events aimed to help beautify the community whether it be a local resident, community organization or small business.
“People want to do more and they do it better if you recognize their efforts. It’s incredibly rewarding to hear the volunteers say how good they feel about helping a co-worker, a community member or a local nonprofit,” he said. “It’s just common sense. Recognition mobilizes people, and I put a high value on that.”
Not one to just talk about recognition, Dwyer organizes the annual “Thank you for giving back” event for his union brothers and sisters.
“My work with the Union Recognition Committee is a way to thank our members for spending the time waving our union flag in the community,” he added.
|1||Caravan Knight Facilities Management||Sept. 1||Janitorial services for Chrysler Group LLC’s Warren (Mich.) Stamping Plant|
|1A||Caravan Knight Facility Management||July 22||Janitorial services, various customers, Taylor, Mich.|
Endurance, persistence and solidarity – it’s a powerful combination.
“In this day and time and with the economy like it is, it is nice to be able to leave the bargaining table with wage increases, decent health care and language that will help our members in other ways,” said James Dumas, an assembly production operator and UAW Local 3212 financial secretary.
Dumas and his fellow Local 3212 members at Tower Automotive Chicago ratified a new contract 124 to 46 in a Sept. 11 vote – after working more than 2½ years without one.
The agreement gives workers two wage increases and a lump sum, maintains an affordable health care plan and offers two unpaid personal days.
“We applaud the endurance, persistence and solidarity of Local 3212 members and the bargaining team in negotiating this agreement,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger.
“With this new agreement, our members can continue to support their families and communities as they build quality automotive parts for the industry,” said UAW Vice President Bob King, who directs the union’s Competitive Shop/Independents, Parts and Suppliers Department.
Under the new three-year agreement, Tower workers will receive wage increases of $2 an hour the first year of the agreement, with an additional 50 cents per hour the second year and a $1,000 lump sum in the third year.
Also, workers on afternoon and midnight shifts will receive an additional 50 cents per hour shift premium.
“We asked Local 3212 members to be patient, work with us and wait to get in a better position,” said UAW Region 4 Director Dennis Williams. “After more than 2½ years, it all worked out.”
“We’re pleased with what has been accomplished and looking forward to more conversations with the company in an even greater partnership that benefits everyone involved,” said Roosevelt Williams, Local 3212 president.
Workers at Tower’s Chicago facility produce chassis and rear floor pan assemblies for various customers, including Ford Motor Co.
“With a new contract under our belt, it would be nice to see our plant get more work and see more of our members on layoff be able to get back to work,” said Dumas.
Born and raised in Indiana, Eugene Victor Debs spent his life working for fair wages, workers’ rights, social justice and equality.
The Eugene V. Debs Foundation in Terre Haute, Ind., was founded in 1962 as a memorial to his progressive and humanitarian spirit, and to preserve the Debs Home at 451 N. Eighth Street as a public museum. The nonprofit foundation also serves as an archival resource for research and education in the social sciences, labor studies and political history.
Every year since 1965 an awards banquet has been held in Terre Haute, Ind., honoring a person whose work has been in the spirit of Debs and who has contributed to the advancement of causes of industrial unionism, social justice or world peace.
From John L. Lewis, its first recipient 44 years ago, to last year’s honoree, United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, each individual – whether in the labor movement, public service or education – has made significant contributions to society in the “Debsian” tradition.
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger was this year’s recipient, and the second UAW president to be honored with the Debs Award. The first was Walter Reuther in 1968.
Gettelfinger received the 2009 Eugene V. Debs Award on Oct. 3 for being instrumental in fighting against overwhelming odds to preserve and protect the wages and benefits of UAW members and retirees.
“As president of the union most adversely impacted by the worldwide economic downturn – especially threatening the health and economic welfare of UAW members and retirees, along with the U.S.-based auto industry – Ron Gettelfinger has been defending UAW members and retirees against overwhelming odds to protect their wages and benefits,” said Michael Sullivan, president of the Debs Foundation and the Sheet Metal Workers.
Gettelfinger’s remarks stressed the importance of keeping the memory of Debs and others like him alive to “understand the immense sacrifice of those who came before us.”
“Thank you for honoring the UAW … This isn’t for any one officer. It’s for our entire union, its ongoing history and our continued fight for social justice,” he added.
Wearing the trademark red beret and Women’s Emergency Brigade armband, Geraldine Blankinship stood tall before the Labor Day crowd at Sit-Downers Memorial Park on the grounds of UAW Region 1C in Flint, Mich.
“I am the proudest woman you can imagine … so honored to be here today,” she said at the recent unveiling of a memorial tribute to women of labor.
More than 70 years ago General Motors’ sit-down strikers and the Women’s Emergency Brigade taught us an enduring lesson: Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things through the power of collective action and the strength of solidarity.
It was 1936 and a turbulent time for autoworkers, who had won sit-down strikes at Bendix in South Bend, Ind., and Detroit’s Kelsey-Hayes Wheel Co. Before year’s end, Flint workers learned that GM planned to move key dies from the Fisher Body complex to pre-empt an anticipated strike.
Blankinship, now 89, was a teen-ager and daughter of a sit-downer. She joined the Women’s Brigade after hearing about how they broke out windows to let fresh air into General Motors’ tear-gas filled Fisher Body No. 1 plant, where workers – including her father – caught the company off guard and sat down Dec. 30.
Before that she, her mother and sister slept in shifts to cook and do laundry for boarders who came from Ohio to help picket. Blankinship and her sister, Louise, helped picket and volunteered for secretarial work at UAW headquarters.
On Feb. 11, 1937, GM recognized the union and negotiated a first contract.
Blankinship and others in the UAW Women’s Brigade and Women’s Auxiliary are credited with making sure actions by police and the company didn’t deter the courageous sit-downers over those 44 long days.
“So many women have contributed not only to labor, but to society as a whole,” said Region 1C Director Duane Zuckschwerdt, on why he expanded the park to include the memorial tribute. “From the Women’s Brigade to the millions of Rosie the Riveters who helped build the arsenal of democracy that brought victory in World War II, women have always contributed to improving lives in all areas of American society: labor, politics, civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights and protecting our country by serving in the military, to name a few.”
With the addition, the memorial park comes to life: On the left is a monument of sit-downers waiting for the strike to end, with the smokestacks of GM’s Flint Assembly Truck plant in the background.
Just ahead there’s a factory wall façade – with actual bricks and windows from GM’s Fisher plants in Flint and Lansing – used as a backdrop against life-size bronze statues by artist Stan Watts from Atlas Bronze in Utah. You see a policeman dragging a women’s brigade member; a child holding a picket sign near a woman delivering strikers’ food from a picnic basket; a woman wielding a bat about to break out a factory window.
On the right is a fountain topped by a 6,000-pound granite ball engraved with a map of the world and the UAW logo. Biographies of women who have made a difference in the labor movement surround the fountain. Granite benches donated by local unions offer a place to sit and reflect.
GM sit-downer Arthur Lowell, 92, reminded the crowd why the UAW is so important: “When I hired in the plant at 18, General Motors had announced profits in the millions. We were paid so little that we could not afford to buy a car. After the strike, when the UAW was representing us, things got better and we could afford to buy cars. Then General Motors began announcing profits in the billions.”
Kirchner is a member of UAW Local 598.
Telling the UAW story is a crucial role for local union communicators – that’s why honoring those who are doing it well is essential. Local union communicators are responsible for getting the word out to the membership, helping create the local publications and Web sites members turn to as trusted sources of communication.
UAW communicators gathered in October at the Walter and May Reuther UAW Family Education Center in Onaway, Mich., for the 2009 UAW Local Union Press Association (LUPA) Communications Conference. They attended a week of classes in writing, editing, photography and Web design, and were recognized for their best work from 2008.
Print contest, Division 1A (newsletters under 1,500 circulation):
UAW Local 442, UAW Union News, communicator Cindy Sturtz
Print contest, Division 1B (newsletters over 1,500 circulation):
UAW Local 245, Beacon, communicator Keith W. Brown
Print Contest, Division 2A (tabloid newspapers under 1,500 circulation):
UAW Local 651, The Sparkler, communicator Brandon Bellinger
Print contest, Division 2B (tabloid newspapers over 1,500 circulation):
UAW Local 3000, Local 3000 Guide, communicator Norm Kujawa
UAW Local 2000, www.uawlocal2000.org, webmaster J.R. Bickel
UAW Local 838, “Iowa's Bravest,” producer Sheryl Strohecker
Alfred H. “Pops” Nudi Award:
UAW Local 598, Debi Kirchner. This Special Recognition Award honors longtime commitment to local union communications.
Kirchner has shown dedication and longstanding commitment to labor communication as a longtime member of the LUPA Advisory Council. She’s been a photography instructor at LUPA conferences over the years, and also has provided guidance and mentoring to countless LUPA delegates.
Charlene Nash has worked since 1983 at Land O'Lakes in Canton, Ohio, where they make butter, margarine and other spreads. She's been an active member of UAW Local 70 – plant chair for nine years, and sergeant at arms, trustee and vice president for three-year terms. A Detroit native and a former model, she met her husband, Jim, on the job. He is retired from Land O'Lakes and General Tire, and they live in Akron.
No, it wasn't. I started in January 1983, and we got the union in somewhere around 1988. I had worked at Timken, a roller bearing company, in Canton for 10 years, and I was a union representative there for the Steelworkers. I helped encourage people at Land O'Lakes. Some people were very young, and we were treated well.
Because you never know. Management changes, and you never know what you'll get in the future. Many workers, like me, had worked with plants that were unionized, and we realized the importance of being organized.
Very good. The union works closely with the company to get different products in and to conform to new safety regulations, like the ones that started Aug. 1. For example, I work in distribution. Our jobs entail going outside a lot, and it's going to be required we wear some type of bootie over our safety shoes. When you come back in from the outside, you have to walk through sanitizing foam. You can't even wear a wedding band.
For more on what Nash's Region 2B brothers and sisters are doing, see "What we do,"
The members of UAW Local 1219 at Ford Motor Co's. Lima (Ohio) Engine plant could write a book about creative fund raising.
Last year the local raised $6,000 for its wheelchair ramp building program. Ford matched the amount, but this year, due to financial cutbacks, the company didn't contribute. And the fund shortfall threatened to end the local's longtime program.
So the local called on the community, and they returned the favor.
"It's a pretty amazing thing to see how these people are helped in the community. And you see the connection in the community keep building and spreading out," said Local 1219 President Dave Rabe. "This business of doing good becomes contagious."
Susan Zink, whose late husband, Ralph, was a Local 1219 member, was deemed Guardian Angel of this year's program after she donated a 409-pound hog for a plant pig roast. They netted $2,661 in donations. It wasn't the first contribution for Zink, who had previously made two $805 contributions.
The wheelchair ramp project began 17 years ago. Now the volunteer labor is done almost entirely by groups of UAW hourly retirees, along with additional help from some Ford salaried workers. More than 400 ramps have been erected in the surrounding Lima community.
Why is this program so important to the local?
"Because it's important to the community, that's why," Rabe said.