The Constitutional Death Of The UAW “Part Two” 

 

by William Hanline

“The Constitutional Death of the UAW” was written for two reasons. Reason number one was to encourage UAW members in GM to oppose the newly negotiated healthcare agreement. Secondly and most importantly, it was written to express opposition to the autocratic style governance the Administrative Caucus (A.C.) or “Cooperation Partners” have been ramming down the throats of UAW members. The Cooperation Partners appear to be suffering symptoms of Alzheimer’ as the UAW moves into the 21st Century. For the Administrative Caucus seems hell bent on destroying our member’s democratic rights by deviating from and/or modifying the principles of governance outlined in the UAW Constitution. During their most recent struggles to win concessions for their company partners, it appears they have forgotten their UAW social trade union heritage. Based upon their actions, it appears the Cooperation Partners are intentionally strangling the Constitution to death by arbitrarily redesigning the objectives of the union so they can force members to capitulate to the corporate defined competitive needs of their company partners. Keep in mind when Miller and Wagoner speak of being competitive neither talks about shop floor inefficiencies, such as first time quality, machine down time, bad parts or materials from suppliers, or recalled parts and vehicles that result in high warrantee cost. And last but not least, in honor of our esteemed friend Dave Yettaw, remember all the excessive overtime that results from criminal mismanagement at GM and Delphi. The only thing NOT GLOBALLY COMETETIVE at GM and Delphi is management. During, this writing, several questions seemed to persist. 

 

1) Do the International Executive Board members care enough to stop acting as company partners in order to save what is left of the UAW? 

 

2) Why should they? The answers will come later in this letter.

 

The modifications the Cooperation Partners made to the collective bargaining process during the Ford/ Visteon and GM negotiations were subtle but were designed to fast track concessions through the bargaining process. Why did they throw away their regards and respect for the democratic rights of UAW members during those talks? The most recent examples started when Gettelfinger refused to re-open the Ford/Visteon agreements. By refusing to reopen the agreements, the Cooperation Partners had to modify the collective bargaining procedure to accomplish Gettelfinger’s wishes, so he could give the company partners what they wanted in concessions at the same time tie the membership’s hands or ability to fight back. THE STRIKE! 

 

Let us take a closer look, first by asking some very important questions. 

 

1) Who negotiated the terms of those agreements? 

 

2) Was the International Union Top Negotiating Committee (team) involved? 

 

3) Were the Ford /Visteon and GM agreements approved by the IEB of the International Union before the language was presented to the GM and Ford/Visteon councils, (Local presidents and shop chairpersons) for approval? 

Fact is, only one person signed the Ford Visteon agreement, that was Vice President Gerald Bantom, Richard Shoemaker signed the GM document. It appears they unilaterally negotiated the terms of both agreements. If not, why then were the pictures of the top negotiating team excluded and not printed in the UAW-GM and UAW-Ford highlights? Did the Top Bargaining Team sign the new agreements as required? Some members may not even know that one of their local officials is on the top negotiating team. All you need to do is find a copy of your 2003 contract highlights and look at the back page. For example, in GM and Delphi their names are Ron Gettelfinger President UAW; Richard Shoemaker Vice President of the GM department; Dave Curson director of UAW Special Projects, Bill Stevenson A.A. to the President, Jim Beardsley, Henderson Slaughter and Joe Spring are Administrative Assistants to V.P Shoemaker, Jim Shroat, Ron Bieber, Tom Walsh, Tom Weekly, Tony Ortiz, Willie C. Williams and Scott Campbell, are assistant directors of the UAW GM Department; Frank Mire director of the UAW Health and Safety Department, Dan Sherrick General Counsel; Chuck Gayney director of Social Security Department; Linda Ewing Director Research Department, Leon Skudelarek administrator of the Umpire and review Staff; Mark Kelly and David Shoemaker coordinators of the GM department; Mark Hawkins Shop chair of 598; Clyde Sims shop chair of Local 913; Mike Jones shop chair Local 499; Midge Collette president of Local 292; Lee Jones shop chair Local 5960; Rick O’Donnell shop chair Local 163; Jim Jenkins shop chair local 977; Ron Brogan shop chair local 668; Darrel Shepard president of Local 2157; Larry Kuk shop chair Local 167; , and Bob Bueno shop chair of Local 2162. 

 

The GM-Delphi council made up of Local Presidents and Shop Chairpersons elect members to each top negotiating team. The people named above were elected during a UAW-GM council meeting prior to national contract negotiations. They were chosen to represent the UAW dues paying members in GM and Delphi for the duration of the contract and Constitution. If the members duly elected representatives were not used, how did those negotiations represent the members democratically? Maybe we should ask the folks mentioned above a couple of questions such as, where were they during the negotiations of the GM healthcare agreement. Then ask, if they signed the documents also.

 

Gettelfinger and Shoemaker alone cannot be blamed for stomping on the members Constitutional democratic rights. Remember, the IEB had to endorse the newly negotiated agreements before those agreements went before our local presidents and shop chairpersons or GM and Ford Councils for their vote of approval. Therefore, approval by the IEB members simply implicates them in these shenanigans as well.

 

Consequentially, the Cooperation Partners (IEB) changed the negotiation process to exclude the top negotiators. Why did Gettelfinger allow that? Was it to save face with the media or with his Cooperation Partners, GM and Ford? Or was he to proud to reopen the agreement and negotiate it accordance to constitutional procedures, just so he could say “LOOK, I told everybody I would not reopen the GM contract and I lived up to my word” However, everything he did to accomplish that feat is typical oligarchial style democracy in action. I.E. that is when one person or a small group of people dictates to the masses what is best for them and the masses get to vote but one way, the way that person or the autocrats dictate. 

The UAW Constitution requires that the members must be allowed to vote on whether a bona fide committee can even discuss changes in a contract. Just to discuss changes! The modifications made by the A.C. to prevent members from expressing their desires to have some one Just Discuss reopening the agreement is another example of how the Cooperation Partners circumvented the UAW Constitution. Ask yourself, did you get to vote to allow the Cooperation Partners to “discuss” changes to the present agreement? NO! Did you vote on any resolutions pertaining to the changes? NO! Why not? According to the Constitution, changes to our national agreement can only be made through resolutions adopted by local unions and voted on by our delegates during a special bargaining convention. Was that done? NO! 

 

An analysis of the two agreements mentioned above, and how they were negotiated, will confirm they are excellent examples of Saturn style Memorandums Of Understandings or “MOUs.” The UAW negotiated hundreds of MOUs at Saturn before Saturn members voted to go under the GM umbrella. That would have been OK for Saturn then, however, the last time I looked, we do not work under a Saturn style agreement. The problem with the Saturn “MOU” style of bargaining is simple, how can any member place total faith in one man? To believe and expect one individual to be knowledgeable enough to protect all the healthcare benefits is preposterous if not down right irresponsible. Have you ever seen a copy of the UAW/GM healthcare agreement? If not, you need to ask your benefits representatives to look at a copy or request to see a copy of the “Benefits White Book” given to them and your council members. The healthcare portion of our national agreement is very large and extremely complex. Remember, collective bargainer’s copies or the “White Book” with all the changes in the healthcare agreement are passed out to UAW council members just before the national ratification vote. You will discover that the health care book is usually much larger than the national contract book itself. Did Richard Shoemaker pass out white books to Delphi and GM council members before they voted to adopt the new GM healthcare agreement? 

 

Ask your local president and shop chairperson to see his or her copy. If they did not get a copy, ask them, what exactly did they vote on? 

 

Another example of the Cooperation Partners willingness to deprive UAW members of their right to vote took place right after the 2003 negotiation. In 2003, Delphi and GM-UAW members ratified an agreement that allowed the Cooperation Partners to negotiate later a two-tier wage for all new hires in Delphi. However, UAW-Delphi members never voted on the negotiated changes. Again, the Cooperation Partners arbitrarily negotiated a massive money saving concession for their company partners and fast tracked it by changing the bargaining process. Brother Gregg Shotwell, a delegate to the 33rd UAW Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) and Guide to his local union recognized the change and challenged it by filing an appeal to the Public Review Board or (PRB). Almost two years later and with overwhelming evidence supporting his claim, the UAW paid PRB refuses to rule on his appeal. I recall what people in my plant said when I approached them about voting no for the 2003 contract because of the two-tier wage. Many of them said “My son (or daughter) would be happy to work for 15 dollars an hour, because where else could they go to make that kind of money.” My Grandmother taught me: “You reap what you sow and when dealing with people be very careful what you wish for or force upon others for it may come home to haunt you.” Well now, there is a great possibility that the two tier 15 dollar an hour starting wage the Cooperation Partners thought was ok in 2003 and 2004 will become the benchmark for the bankruptcy judge when he rules on the agreement. 

 

How can the Cooperation Partners argue in defense of our level of wages in bankruptcy court when they were guilty of negotiating and adopting lower wages for new hires to help Delphi remain competitive? How can they justify saying NO to Miller’s wage cuts when they went on record in support of the two-tier wage by asking members, “Would you strike for someone who has not yet been hired?” Even crazier, how can they or any seniority members on the shop floor, approach a new hire who was hired under the new wage agreement and ask them to stand in solidarity with them when the UAW calls for a strike over Miller’s proposed wage and benefits cuts? What is more, how can Shoemaker and Gettelfinger explain to the public why we are on strike knowing they created the benchmark, which was the same as saying the UAW member in Delphi is paid too much money per hour. Finally, do not forget UAW members in Delphi and GM adopted the two-tier wage overwhelmingly in 2003. 

 

The Cooperation Partners may try to save face by saying they made a mistake. Problem with that remark is mistakes are only as serious as the results they create. None of the above could ever come to be if the Cooperation Partners lived up to their oath of office and remained dedicated to the wording in the UAW Constitution! That is why the Constitution was created in the first place.

 

In 2003, UAW-GM members voted on the UAW-Delphi National Contract. Was it because both Delphi and GM councils approved the tentative agreement? If you recall, recently the Delphi council attended Shoemakers unilateral meeting at the UAW/GM CHR that approved the new GM health care deal. With out a question, the GM deal will eventually affect workers in Delphi. Why then, were Delphi employees excluded from the ratification vote on the GM healthcare agreement? Was the exclusion of Delphi workers from that ratification vote testimony that Shoemaker and Gettelfinger are resigned to the fact that we are going to get what ever the judge decides in January? Are they already defeated? Sounds like it, for after reading what the Union and Shoemaker said as reported in Brett Clanton’s article in the Detroit News (December 2, 2003) we can only believe they have No fight in them. “The job now is to try to save as many jobs and benefits as possible” and “The best we will probably be able to do is buy time for retirement and save some plants,” said Shoemaker. Does that sound like union leaders ready to fight for Social justice and economic improvement?

 

Let us now look at the questions I brought up at the beginning of this piece. 1) Do the International Executive Board members care enough to stop violating the UAW Constitution in order to save what is left of the UAW? The answer is NO! The phlegmatic and stoic temperaments exhibited by the Cooperation Partners became imbedded in them over the course of the last twenty years of Jointness. The corporate style thinking they exhibit comes from several sources. However, as Joint Partners their obligation to up hold the articles of incorporation of the national joint programs is one contributing factor. Apparently, the Cooperation Partners believe the articles and By-laws of the Joint centers supercede the language in the UAW Constitution. Let us compare the “objectives” of both organizations. For example, Article II of the Incorporation documents for the CHR (filed with the state of Michigan in 2004) and Article II of the UAW Constitution.

 

Article II of the CHR reads: “The Center provides development, delivery, and administration of education, training, and other programs and activities that may be jointly agreed to by the parties in order to meet future competitive realities and enhance the employment security of UAW-represented General Motors employees ,as well as employees of entities and enterprises previously controlled by General Motors.”

 

X….study and explore ways of eliminating potential problems which reduce the competitiveness and inhibit the economic development of the plant, area or industry.” Emphasis added

 

Article II Sect 1 of the 2002 UAW Constitution reads: Section 1. “To improve working conditions, create a uniform system or shorter hours, higher wages, health care and pensions; to maintain and protect the interest of workers under the jurisdiction of this International Union.” Sections were not included to reduce redundancy, however, I do encourage every member to read the UAW Constitution.

 

In my opinion, the language of the two articles above is contrary to each other. How can the Cooperation Partners work to improve our wages, hours, and pensions when they are obligated to make the company competitive in the world market place through their obligations to the joint programs? It is impossible! 

Example: The last round of negotiations produced the biggest concessionary agreement ever negotiated by the UAW. Then, with in a week GM announced the closing of nine plants and reductions in it’s workforce of 30,000 more UAW members. All we heard from the Cooperation Partners was a complaint that GM was eliminating 20% more employees than was negotiated. 

 

The latter leads right in to the next question.

 

2) Why should the Cooperation Partners (IEB) care? In the “Constitutional Death of the UAW,” it was mentioned how the UAW International Union is becoming more and more dependent on outside corporate money to maintain its primal financial existence. What I mean by primal existence for example is the Union is acting very much as an animal caught in a trap. An animal will fight for survival its survival even chew off a foot or appendage to stay alive. The UAW, like that animal is willing to shed its appendages, dues paying members and Local unions in exchange for income from the automakers to keep the international union viable and financially well. The Cooperation Partners done this with joint funds and appear to be doing it again with the newly negotiated Health care VEBA. Could they have possibly created another form of income to maintain their high life styles and life long benefits as they did with Joint funds?

 

To bargain means to give something in return for something. What did the Cooperation Partners get in return for GM’s healthcare concessions? Why would Gettelfinger and Shoemaker agree to a mere 1 billion dollar healthcare VEBA in exchange for a 15 billion dollar healthcare trust? It did not make sense, not until GM made its plant-closing announcement!

 

Since UAW membership is down to 650,000 dues paying members, why would the “Cooperation Partners” go along with GM’s needs to eliminate 30,000 more jobs? The loss of 30,000 dues paying members is equal to a loss of 16 million dollars a year before per-capita taxes. The answer to the question above lies with the new healthcare VEBA. The terms of that new healthcare VEBA allows 20% of its income to be used for administrative purposes. Well, trustees from the UAW and the other five unions will administer the new healthcare VEBA. Think about it, 20% of the first 1 billion dollars GM puts into the new VEBA in the first year is 200 million dollars. Did the Cooperation Partners negotiate yet another pot of money to dip into to supplemental its annual flat line income when GM eliminates 30,000 more dues paying members? So was the 2005 GM negotiations, and will future negotiations be strictly about healthcare or was it and will they more about creating other sources of income for the UAW International Union while GM and the other automakers eliminates tens of thousands of UAW jobs? What did the UAW get in exchange? At this time allow me to offer a word of “warning” to all UAW members in Ford and DaimlerChrysler. Before you vote to except healthcare concessions make sure the healthcare plan you are voting on will not be co-mingled with the GM plan. Think about this, since the five unions and the UAW could be partially administering the new VEBA, will there be any more need for negotiating of healthcare benefits with the companies. Instead, will member’s healthcare benefits wind up at the mercy and control of the UAW and the other five unions? If so, will there be a need to negotiate healthcare with the automakers in the future? Do you feel comfortable with that? What is more, the co-mingling of trust could increase the flow of your hard earned money into all six union’s coffer.

 

A dear friend and staunch union brother who worked for the International Union for most of his life told me once that this is how they think at Solidarity House. “What a beautiful UAW we would have if we did not have any members to bother with.” If the Cooperation Partners can replace dues with income from various trusts, such as the VEBAs and reimbursements from the joint funds, why should the Cooperation Partners care? They will not have to worry, for their job and income security would be protected for life.

 

As a Delphi worker, I am frightened to speculate what the Cooperation Partners have in store for the workers in Delphi, for there are only 24,000 of us left. Since Gettelfinger and Shoemaker are being so reticent about the UAW loosing 30,000 members in GM, what can we in Delphi look forward too. Better yet, what will the payoff be to the union, another new healthcare VEBA for Delphi employees? Is that why they did not have Delphi UAW members vote on the new GM healthcare language?

 

There is a solution to the problem, but it is going to take work, a concerted effort by all UAW members, not just those in Delphi and GM. I mean all UAW members! First, we have to stand together and Vote NO on any more concessionary agreements. That would send a clear picture to the UAW International Executive Board that we understand concessionary agreements do not save jobs. Secondly, now that we have recognized the problem, we need to communicate the problem to our Brothers and Sisters and ask them to vote for candidates who run for delegates who will demand that there be a change of leadership in each region. In other words, require your candidates for delegate to vote for regional directors who will vote for reform and remove any Cooperation Partners from IEB positions. This is not asking members to violate the UAW Constitution, where it is written that local unions cannot dictate how their delegates vote at the Constitutional Convention. What the latter means is directing delegates by Vote or membership action. However, members can chose delegates who offer change on their platforms that meets their requirements. A platform can be established on the shop floor and it does not constitute membership action. Furthermore, the members not the candidates can organize it. So let us work together to restore the UAW to its original constitutional objectives, to restore it to a membership driven union instead of a capital driven company. Let us remove it from the autocratic control of the Cooperative Partners such as Gettelfinger who believe that the UAW should be a company union.

 

Remember this, every day when Ron Gettelfinger gets up in the morning he understands he is one day closer to the UAW Constitutional Convention where he will be re-elected. 

 

Lets keep that from happening and work for change! 

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