BY BRAD DOWNS
CLEVELAND - The United Auto Workers (UAW) announced November 18 that 85 percent of those members voting nationwide endorsed a new contract between the union and General Motors. No vote total was released. The contract comes on the heels of local strikes at GM plants in Janesville, Wisconsin, and Indianapolis, Indiana, and a national strike by GM workers in Canada.
The contract, which was unanimously approved by UAW officials, provoked a wide-ranging discussion at the GM stamping plant where I work, just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Some 82 percent of the workers who cast ballots here voted for the national contract, and 66 percent for the local agreement. Many workers did not vote on the contract at all.
Brent Stone and John Justice are two workers in their mid- 20s who were part of a group of 15 hired in May, the first group of production workers hired off the street into this plant since 1978. Stone told me, "I didn't vote because I didn't have time and a `no' vote wouldn't mean anything because it's [the contract] going to pass." Justice expressed similar resignation, "It'll pass. Only 2 percent will vote against it." Unlike elections for local union office, where voting takes place for at least a 24-hour period, voting on our local and national agreements took place for 10 hours, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, November 15.
I attended the one meeting organized by my local to report on both the national and local agreements. It was scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. for second shift workers, who begin their jobs by 3 p.m. Day-shift workers could attend a 3 p.m. meeting, two hours before the voting ended. I learned of one concession involving attendance policy.
The first two steps of oral warnings have been eliminated. Now workers will be suspended for three days at the third step of the program and subject to firing at the sixth step. Unlike the previous contract, this one does not wipe clean members' attendance records.
UAW officials have touted the supposed "95 percent job security" of this new contract. At our ratification meeting, in response to a worker expressing displeasure with media announcements of 12 GM plant closings, a union official announced that GM would only shut the four plants in Kalamazoo, Flint, Ypsilanti, and Livonia, Michigan.
The questions of job security and "outsourcing," the practice of GM sending work previously performed by UAW members to outside companies whose workers earn substantially less money, have been big topics of discussion. Justice explained, "They say 95 percent, but they don't want you to look at all the exceptions - if there's an economic decline or improvements in efficiency. It's under GM's control; that's dangerous."
John Jackson, a 50-year-old electrician with 16 years' seniority, wasn't too happy with the contract either. "They didn't give us anything. $2,000, that's it. They can still outsource jobs. There's so many loopholes; they can do what the want to do."
Clint E. Staples Jr., a 32-year-old production worker, was hired last year at the Kalamazoo stamping plant and transferred to this factory. He said, "I haven't read the full summary yet, but from what I hear both sides did all right."
Tanya Smith, a 25-year-old who also was hired last year in Kalamazoo, interjected, "What about the 30,000 jobs that are going to be lost? How are they going to decide who loses their job?"
Edwin Cheatham is a 56-year-old production worker with 29 years of seniority who supports the new contract. "It's nothing fabulous, but also no big disappointments. I like the increase in pension benefits because a lot of people in here are over 55 years old. The contract's a small gain, but a step in the right direction."
Meanwhile, the November 19 Wall Street Journal reported that GM has closed a deal to sell off four of its parts plant in the U.S. and Canada. The four plants are among the 13 in GM's Delphi Interior & Lighting Systems group. They employ about 4,000 workers in Flint, Livonia, and Windsor and Oshawa, Ontario. According to the article, the new company, Peregrine, will cut the size of the workforce. The laid-off workers will have a chance to transfer to other GM plants. Delphi has said that these plants aren't on the much-discussed list of "troubled," or "non-competitive," operations that GM maintains the right to sell off or close.
Brad Downs is a member of UAW Local 1005 at GM Parma Metal
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