This Is Not Your Father's (or Mother's) Union

At one time the UAW championed its members' cause to fight company nepotism and cronyism on the factory floor. Today's UAW leaders would rather switch than fight. The "switch" took place in the early 1980s when Jointness appeared on the table.

The rationale behind the "jointness process" stands in direct opposition to the way unions and corporations are supposed to interact. In the early days of our union, a line was drawn and the UAW's leadership stood firmly on one side, fighting for shorter work weeks, premium pay on overtime, health and safety, and workable job cycles. The UAW stood adamantly against the company practice of placing friends and family members on favored jobs.

Today's UAW has learned how to play the game, under a banner called Jointness. The contracts the UAW negotiates leave the responsibility for managing to management while the union acts as a guardian for its members. But the UAW, in conjunction with the Big Three, has created separate corporations-the jointness programs--with both union and company at the helm. My sources have indicated that UAW-GM has generated nearly $2 billion in joint funds. Last year alone GM generated $179 million.

With both parties at the wheel, who is acting as the protector?

The union is now acting in the capacity of policeman over the rank and file for the company. Every day more and more articles appear in newspapers throughout the country reporting that rank and file members have had enough. Their numbers are beginning to swell and they are willing to meet with other members who are experiencing trouble.

APPOINTED JOINTNESS ARMY

Here's an example that shows how the jointness system works: Within weeks of settling our local agreement, the president reported at a local meeting that the grievance load was at 1,200. To address that issue, the local decided to boycott the company's State of the Business meeting. The company never even flinched.

At that same union meeting, a member made a motion to boycott all joint activities until the grievance load could be brought into a manageable range. The tactic was used quite effectively a few years earlier. But as all motions go that involve joint activities at Local 594, this motion was defeated by the army of political appointees, whose only official job requirement is to show up at union meetings and support the officer who appointed them.

In our local of 3,400 we have over 200 appointees, many with full-time, nontraditional, off-the-line-type jobs. Those full-timers who belong to the president's caucus are required to pay $10 per month to the caucus. That's a lot of money going into the treasury of a political caucus that has never used its funds for the betterment of the members but instead holds lavish parties and runs candidates.

After 20 years of jobs getting harder and the president's army growing ever larger, the membership at Local 594 has begun to take matters into their own hands, at the voting booth. The last general election saw the incumbent group hold on to only two spots out of 15.

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TAKING IT TO COURT

If our members have a problem with their union, the UAW Constitution spells out what steps can be taken to resolve their issues. However, like the corporations, the union has learned how to stall, stall, stall, harass, harass, harass, until members are forced to give up or seek out democracy in the courts. Unfortunately, at 594 as in many other locals, many are having to take the latter approach.

The legal approach is not without its drawbacks. Members who dare to speak out are singled out by members of the joint political army and harassed on an almost daily basis. The harassment includes shop floor stalking, malicious destruction of personal property, filing of false police reports, unmerited UAW trials and charges, whispering campaigns, and other tactics aimed at isolating the voices of dissent.

REACTION TO EXPOSÉ

When the series of articles appeared in the newspaper in May, members on the shop floor agreed that spending millions and millions of dollars on bankrupted hotels, airlines, and golf courses they will never use is a waste of their dues dollars. But they are more concerned about getting through an eight-hour day on a job that is being cycled tighter and tighter everyday. Will they have the strength, mobility, and energy to play catch with the kids or grandkids when they get home, or to prepare a meal for the family?

Scott Huff, a 594 member, suggested the funds being used to purchase the La Mancha resort would serve more members if the UAW would offer discounts on homeowner's and auto insurance. Or how about purchasing Medi-Gap insurance for our retirees and other members in need?

Others are worried about their plants staying open, says one Ford worker recently surveyed. A member at UAW Local 5960 in Lake Orion, Michigan says that the International has crippled the whole concept of solidarity by clipping the bargaining power from the locals. He sees his local officials as "a good bunch" who are being held back by the International because they don't belong to the "good ol' boy" network.

One 594 member, who is currently taking the pre-retirement classes taught under the Joint Training Program, stated that the classes were worthwhile and she enjoys getting off the line for four hours a week with pay for six or seven weeks. When asked if it was worth the $15,385 they have withheld from her pay over the past few years for joint programs, she was reconsidering its real worth.

I borrowed the title of this article from an old Oldsmobile commercial. As we all know, GM is putting the Olds out to pasture. Likewise, if the UAW continues on its present course, the rank and file members will be joining the Olds.

Steve Yokich is no longer the president of the UAW; he is the CEO.