[September 23 Update! Members reject concessions! See update on Solidarity Vote and rally, below.]
In some unions a mail-in ballot is common, but in UAW auto plants, it is unheard of. Members vote in person at the union hall or in the plant. But now the UAW International is forcing a mail-in vote on a concessionary contract reopener at a GM local—after the membership of Local 23 in Indianapolis voted overwhelmingly not to reopen. All this is taking place without the support of the local union.
Regional officials are trying this end run because at an informational meeting August 15 attended by most of the membership, members shouted down the international reps who’d planned to present the concessions, who then left the meeting.
GM had slated to close its Indianapolis Metal Fab stamping plant, but then J.D. Norman Industries, a little-known metal components company with only a six-year track record, offered to buy it. J.D. Norman didn't want to accept the contract’s successor clause, though, which says any new owner must honor the contract in place. He presented an alternative contract at half wages—$15.50 instead of $29—that also gutted the protections won around working conditions.
Almost all the 630 Metal Fab workers in Indianapolis are eligible to be transferred to other GM facilities if their plant shuts down. But they wonder if the wage cut would become a domino effect and follow them to the new plants they might transfer to. Many of these workers have already moved three or four times to protect their wages, working conditions, and benefits accrued over many years. They feel that if J.D. Norman succeeds in throwing out the successor clause, the wage cuts will spread to other GM stamping plants in a new round of a race to the bottom.
After several weeks of intense pressure on the workers from J.D. Norman, UAW Region 3 Director Mo Davison has taken the ball, announcing the international is setting up the mail-in vote, with the American Arbitration Association overseeing the process. Ballots are to be mailed this week and counted beginning September 27.
This process appears to violate the UAW constitution. Article 19 says no one, including International officials, has the authority to negotiate a contract with any employer “without first obtaining the approval of the Local Union.” Today the local election committee handed out a flyer saying the vote would violate local bylaws.
GM is allowing the International into the plant September 20 to present the proposal to workers.
PRESSURE FROM ALL SIDES
Local 23 members voted 384-22 last May against reopening the contract. Since then they have been under the gun. UAW Region 3 officers negotiated concessions behind the backs of the local bargaining committee and Shop Chair Greg Clark, who has led the opposition to givebacks.
Two days after the big meeting where members shouted down International reps, J.D. Norman put a full-page ad in the Indianapolis Star attempting to appeal directly to union members. Then CEO Justin Norman himself held a meeting at a local stadium, inviting the workforce to hear his rationale for carving up their contract. Only 50-60 attended. Norman has told reporters he will not give up attempting to have the workers vote on his contract.
Local 23 members face a regional office determined to see the plant stay open at half wages, GM officials pushing for the sale, and a governor who has said the Metal Fab workers, if laid off, will not get unemployment benefits.
Many present and former officers of UAW locals have joined together to support these workers’ right to decide their own fate. Their statement of support sent to Local 23 members and the Indianapolis Star is below.
Wendy Thompson is the retired president of UAW Local 235 in Detroit. For more information, see Factoryrats Unite!, Soldiers of Solidarity, Warriors of Labor, Autoworker Caravan. UAW members who want to sign on to the letter can call 313-215-7672 or email T_Barb [at] comcast [dot] net.
Local 23 members organized a “Solidarity Vote” even though they did not consider the mail-in ballot a valid vote. They took their mail ballots to the union hall and voted no in front of a video camera, so the vote could be documented. They then videoed the transfer of those "solidarity votes" to the post office and had the mail clerk count them on tape--412 members had come to the hall to vote, soundly rejecting the concessions contract.
The Solidarity Committee of Local 23 will hold a rally at UAW Region 3 headquarters on Saturday, September 25, at 3 p.m., to say once again to officials that they don't want concessions. UAW members from all locals are invited. For more information call Rondo Jabbar Turner at 765-278-9210.
To our Local 23 UAW Sisters and Brothers
Greetings and Solidarity,
We are writing to express our deep respect and admiration for your acts of solidarity and courage in the face of tremendous pressure. We applaud Local 23’s bargaining chair and committee for their strength.
s former (and current) Local Union Presidents, Shop Chairs and other elected representatives, we have witnessed the incessant drumbeat for concession after concession. None of us have ever thought that concessions were the answer to the problems faced by the auto industry, or any industry for that matter. We knew that labor costs were only about 8-10% of the cost of a vehicle. If we worked for free, the industry would have continued to have problems.
Workers and their unions struggled throughout the 1900’s to raise the standard of living for working people – to create a comfortable life for themselves and their children. We fought for our fair share of the pie and thereby created the “American Dream” - a life where people were permitted vacations, health care and safe jobs. These jobs helped bring about a “middle class” existence for working people and the ability to send our kids to college. Before the union movement, workers did not have respect and dignity on the job or a decent standard of living. Children of workers rarely went to college. We earned these things through struggle.
Still, workers have given up pay and benefits over the last 20+ years, in an effort to try and help their employers. But it has never been enough. Now we see everything we struggled for being taken away. The “Dream” is being dismantled before our very eyes. But where is the “equality of sacrifice”?
If the situation is so dire, why aren’t those in power leading by example? Are GM execs willing to take a 50% pay cut? Is JD Norman saying he and his managers will take a 50% cut in pay if they buy the plant? The answer is obvious to us. No, they’re not. They want you to. What we have seen in the last 40 years is a growing disparity between the rich and the rest of us. Those at the top cannot continue to get wealthier unless the rest of us give up more. And that is what they want us to do.
That is why we stand in solidarity with you in this struggle. A line must be drawn. If you give in, it will be used to whipsaw other plants especially GM Stamping Plants into taking equal or greater concessions. Suppliers and other businesses will pressure their employees to take cuts in the never-ending ”race to the bottom.” If you stand strong, it will help everyone.
It appears to us that you have made your wishes clear. In our democratic union, the wishes of the majority must be respected. You have our deepest respect.
Bill B. Alford Jr., former President, Local 235, AAM, Detroit Gear & Axle
Bruce Allen, Vice-President, Canadian Autoworkers Local 199, St. Catharines, Ontario
Erwin Baur, former UAW Local 306 President
Victor Bean, former Local 600 General Council Delegate
Al Benchich, Convention Delegate, retired former President, L. 909
Dean Braid, former Education Director, Local 599, Buick City, Flint
Jeff Brown, former Suggestions Rep, Local 3000
Suzanne Brown, former President, L. 594, Pontiac Truck & Bus
Cassandra Calvert, Local Union 2209 former Financial Secretary
Ali Canada, former Bargaining Committee Member, Local 849
Bill Carr, former President, L. 160
Larry Christensen, Local 140, Chief Steward, Dodge Truck, Warren, Mi.
Lloyd Clarke, former Committeperson, UAW Local 668
Mandy Cohen, Head Steward, L. 2865, Academic Student Employees of the U. of Calif.
Dick Danjin, Union Representative 1971 through 1998 (retired)
Tim England, former Zone Committeeperson, Local 2250
Mark Farris, former Unit Vice President and Convention Delegate, L. 600, Milan Plastics
Eli Friedman, UAW Local 2865, Academic Student Employees at the U. of Calif. Ph.D. Candidate, Dept. of Sociology, U. of Calif., Berkeley
Al Gardner, former Chairperson, Tool & Die Unit, Local 600 UAW, 1978-88
Joseph Gaw, former President UAW Local 499, member of Locals 371, 2075, 287, 499, and 23
Pam Gmyr, UAW Local 465, Union Representative, Massena, NY
Larry Goldbetter, President, Local 1981/National Writers Union
Yvonne Gomillion, retired former EAP Rep., Local 909 and mother of Local 23 member Roy Gomillion
Martha Grevatt, former Trustee and Civil Rights Chair, Local 122, Twinsburg, Ohio
Marcus Hamilton, District Committeeperson, Local 5960, Lake Orion
Frank Hammer, retired UAW Int'l Rep., former Pres. & Shop Chair, GM Powertrain Local 909, Detroit
Vern Hetz, Local 2093 retired Bargaining Rep., Three Rivers, MI
Ernie Hite, former District Committeeperson and Convention Delegate, Local 663
Jeff Hodges, UAW Convention Delegate, L. 3000 and former Shop Committeeperson
Cathy Huff-Abney, District Committeeperson and Delegate, Dearborn Truck, L. 600
Barbara Julien, Local 292, former Trustee and Executive Board Member
Pete Kelly, former L. 160 President
Tom Laney, Retired former President & Floor Rep., Local 879, St. Paul
Ron Lare, former Local 600 Exec Bd Member
Elly Leary, former chief negotiator and vice-president of L. 2324, Boston U.
Roger Long, former UAW representative, Local 2031
Charles W. Maynard, Vice-President of Local 686, Lockport, New York
Robert L. Morris Jr., Convention Delegate and Bargaining Committee Member, Parts Depots, Local 600
X Nate Mosley, former District Committeeperson, Local 25 UAW & now Local 2164
Allen Sonny Myers, former Local 849 Trustee and Guide
Herman Rosenfeld, former Shop Committeeperson, Education Committee Chair, Local 303 CAW, GM Scarborough Van Plant, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
Steven Schwab, Executive Board Member, Local 699
Tom Shaw, former Vice-President, Local 262, AAM, Detroit Forge
Gregg Shotwell, former Convention Delegate, L. 2151, retired L. 1753
Mary Donovan Springowski, District Committeeperson, UAW Local 2000, Convention Delegate
Jessica Taal, Unit Chair, UC Berkeley, Local 2865
Wendy Thompson, Convention Alt., L. 22, former President & Shop Chair, L. 235, AAM, Detroit Gear & Axle
Jerry Tucker, former Region 5 Director
Gary Walkowicz, Local 600 Truck Plant Shop Committeeperson
Bob Weinert, former Shop Committeeperson, Local 22
Bob Weissman, former President, Chrysler Stamping Local 122, Twinsburg, Ohio
Terry Wilcox, former District Committeeperson, Local 1853
Judy Wraight, former Local 600 General Council Delegate