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The Constitutional Death of the UAW December 14, 2008


By William D. Hanline


During Congressional hearings, Ron Gettelfinger was the first Union official to step forward and offer concessions to help the automakers get the $34 billion dollars of bailout money the Detroit Three were requesting. 


Speaking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "Late Edition," Gettelfinger said the union is "prepared to go back to the bargaining table" and reopen the four-year labor agreements signed in 2007. 


Gettelfinger made clear that the UAW would consider additional concessions, but asked for company management to accept nominal cuts as well. "We need the board members, the management, the suppliers, the dealers, the creditors and the equity holders to all come at the table to make sure that one group doesn't have to accept all the sacrifice." Gettelfinger was apparently hoping this bogus claim of "equal sacrifice" would help sell the concessions to the UAW’s membership. 


Topping the list of demands requested by Congressional members from both sides of the aisle was the elimination of the JOBs and SUB programs. Their reason behind this position sounds quite rational for someone who does not understand these programs and how they are administered. They think, “Why should the automakers pay workers 95% of their wages to do nothing?”


As a consequence, Gettelfinger committed the union in suspending the “JOBs” program. Don’t you wonder, how can he do that without membership approval? I believe the key is found in the wording “to suspend” as apposed to eliminate. To suspend does not mean to end the JOBs Program unless it is suspended up to four year reopening of the contract when it would become a contractual issue and most likely will not be adopted.


As a result of bargaining sessions over the decades the JOBs program language was relocated under the joint program language of our national contracts. The latter situation turned the JOBs program into a joint program that has been administered by the Joint Training Centers. Therefore, any agreement between the automakers and the UAW to change the joint programs can be made by the co-directors of the joint centers without approval of the membership. Remember, the joint centers are stand alone non-profit corporations, independent from the UAW and the automakers. Each of those independent entities has contracts between the automakers and the UAW. Those service contracts are written into our collective bargaining agreements. I have always argued that the joint language is nothing more than separate contracts within our national contracts. The purpose of which is to provide services to the automakers and the UAW.   


There is one way to find out if the new concessions will be arbitrarily made by the co-directors or if they will be made in accordance with NLRB standards. Remember; if the JOBs concession is a collective bargaining issue then Gettelfinger will be required to reopen your 4 year agreements which mandate a ratification vote. 


Here is how to find out if the most recent concessions offered by Gettelfinger will be joint language issues or collective bargaining issues. It was recently reported local presidents and shop chairpersons in the auto industry were called to meet in Detroit to authorize Gettelfinger’s suggested changes. Now, go to your local union hall and request to see a copy of the call letter from your local union’s financial secretary for that meeting. If the financial secretary cannot produce a copy of the call letter, that he/she is required to record in order to pay union loss time and expenses for union business, then that meeting was not a Subcouncil meeting called to discuss union business. Instead, those local officials were called to a joint leadership conference and all their expenses were paid by joint funds. You see, union business expenses as required by federal law must be kept separate from Joint funds expenses. If the financial secretary does not have a copy of the call letter for that meeting then request to see the copy of the call letter from your local union president. He/she will have one, but because the call letter was not for union business, they most likely will not let you see it. Funny thing, here I am sending you on a mission, and now I am about to take the wind out of your sails because I already know it was a joint conference. Since the meeting was held at the Renaissance Center which is GM property and not at Solidarity House or some other UAW location, the meeting had to be a joint conference. It would be illegal for the Union to conduct union business to discuss collective bargaining issues on company property.  


Here is something of interest: During my earlier years researching the joint programs the PWBA (EBSA today) sent me a list of all of GM’s Welfare benefits plans in 1997. There were 33 total plans in “FILENAME: 10547595.DBF.” Of those 33 plans recorded by the EBSA, 15 of them were for salary employees.  (Footnote NO. 1)


Plan Number 505, EIN Number 380572515, GENERAL MOTORS AND SUBSIDIARIES, 1979 SUPPLEMENTAL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT PLAN UAW and the GUARANTEED INCOME STREAM BENEFIT PROGRAM UAW, were the only two income security plans for UAW represented employees registered with the EBSA that year. The interesting thing I learned was the supplemental unemployment plans “PLAN NO. 506” for the IUE, and “PLAN NO. 507” for the IAM, were comingled into one Master trust and the money could be used according to the need. In other words, what were negotiated for the UAW were the same amounts negotiated for the other two unions.


How many of you had any idea that these plans ever existed or what they were? Here is my point, like you, most members of congress do not know about the income security plans for the salary workers and hourly white collar workers. All they hear is what they read and get from corporate media just like you. Therefore, I wonder if Gettelfinger’s remarks about equal sacrifice carried any significant weight with the congressional members since Gettelfinger never brought those plans to the attention of the members of congress. I did not hear one of those programs mentioned during the hearings or debates did you? Shouldn’t the income security programs for those workers be suspended simultaneously with the union members’ benefits? Now that would be equal sacrifice in my books!


Lastly, the money for these programs came from somewhere. The automakers did not out of the kindness of their hearts offer job income security to us workers. There had to be a trade off. In other words we gave up something for those benefits and if I remember right it was the Annual Improvement Factor (AIF) that we gave up in exchange for lump sum payments during each contract period from 1984 to present time that paid for those benefit programs. We were told in each contract how much money would be put in the trust for our SUB and JOBS programs. Problem with that is there never was as much money placed in those trust as the union announced during the ratification of all those agreements. Instead during the life of those agreements the Union agreed to allow the automakers to pay as they went, instead of fully funding the trust, this is what caused any shortfall of which in turn placed a bigger burden on the automakers cash flow during times when they had to pay members their contractual benefits. That is the main reason for the automakers dilemma today. Senator Corker and Shelby need to be reminded of this fact and they should also inquire with the foreign automakers in their state they might find out that those automakers have income security programs vary much like the programs they want UAW members to give up.


If one was to research congressional history, they would discover that Welfare Benefits Plans, according to congressional intent were designed as safety nets for workers, their families and their communities during economic down turns, very much like the one we are facing today. The income earned from the welfare benefits plans are tax exempt. The reason for the exemption is encourage participation by corporation as well as secure income for the future need of the programs by allowing the trust funds of the plans to grow in wealth when the economic times are good for the companies. Gettelfinger and other members of the Administrative Caucus who held positions on the contractually mandated committees of those plans once again failed to support UAW members in exchange for jointness and Joint funds reimbursements for UAW staff by turning a blind eye while the companies’ spoliation of the benefits plans for UAW members took place.


We need to remind members of Congress that the programs they think are so expensive were designed to protect the government during times like these. The JOBs and/or SUB program are welfare benefits plans, not philanthropic organizations like the UAW-Automakers’ joint training centers (UAW-GM “CHR” etc.) Congress should require that the automakers and the UAW end all joint funded programs and require that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on these worthless, ineffective programs be placed into the welfare benefits plans the automakers neglected for so many years. We should demand that before one red cent of bail out money is paid to the automakers all joint fund programs are eliminated. Call your Congressman and Senator ASAP.


I. S.  Bill Hanline  





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