UAW Dues Increase? Biggest Mistake since Two-Tier

Auto workers picketed union headquarters in 2010, angry that the UAW had agreed to a two-tier wage structure. With income down, the union is exploring a dues increase. Photo: jimwestphoto.com.

Leaders of the United Auto Workers are quietly floating the notion of a dues increase, from two hours’ pay per month to two and a half. A big Jeep local in Toledo has voted to tell the International “No,” and a Ford local in Chicago has suggested an alternative way to raise and save money.

A letter from leaders of an Illinois Mitsubishi assembly local tells members the dues increase “will be voted on by our elected Constitutional Convention delegates in June of 2014.”

Officers say a dues increase is needed to build up the strike fund. A Big Three worker at full pay would see dues rise from $56.25 a month to $70.32. A second-tier worker’s dues would rise from around $34 to $42.50.

Thirty-five years as a UAW activist (now retired) tell me a dues increase could push dissatisfaction with concessions to the breaking point. We need to organize the unorganized, not alienate the organized.

In Michigan, the state with nearly 40 percent of the 382,500 UAW members, “right to work” is now in effect. When Big Three contracts expire in 2015, members will have the opportunity to stop paying dues (the “right to freeload”). Some are already saying they will do so. UAW leaders are clueless if they don’t foresee a tsunami of anger at a dues increase from a shop floor already unhappy over decades of concessions.

If the message from UAW officers is “We can’t strike unless you accept a dues increase,” many members would see this as manipulative.

For years, the union has taken money out of the strike fund to pay for various projects including organizing the unorganized. UAW President Bob King says organizing the unorganized in the auto industry is the union’s do-or-die priority. That’s true.

However, we hurt the UAW among non-union auto workers when we agreed to cut new members’ wages drastically and to not provide them with pensions. It was fighting unions, not deep-pocketed unions, that attracted members in the 1930s—and can do the same today. A dues increase would only give more ammunition to those who want to keep the German- and Japanese-owned plants in the South “union-free.”

FORD LOCAL HAS A BETTER IDEA

In September, an alternative to a dues increase passed at key UAW Local 551, Ford-Chicago Assembly.

The 551 resolution agrees there is a problem: “…the International Strike Fund has fallen from a peak of $914.2 million at the end of 2005 to $635.2 million in June of 2013, a level not seen since 1984.”

The Chicago resolution argues that a credible strike threat empowers negotiators: “the strike is the most powerful tool a fighting union has at its disposal.” It shows how the strike fund can be restored by:

  • Stopping transfers from the fund for other purposes. Previous Conventions approved taking up to $160 million from the fund in the four years between Conventions.
  • Raising the second tier of wages and benefits to normal pay and restoring cost-of-living and raises for all. This would generate more money without increasing the dues formula.
  • Raising the minimum strike fund balance required to trigger rebates to the locals and International, leaving more in the fund without a dues increase.
  • Holding most leadership meetings in Detroit to reduce travel expenses (and to assist Detroit itself).

The resolution says we must reject “collaboration with the Corporations we toil for as a winning strategy for negotiations.”

At times a union dues increase is necessary—but we don’t need handicaps when we try to talk fellow workers out of leaving the union in 2015, and persuade them to come together to organize the unorganized and fight for better contracts.

Ron Lare is a member of UAW Local 600 at the Ford Rouge in Dearborn, Michigan, and a former executive board member. Contact him at ronlare[at]sbcglobal[dot]net. To join the Autoworker Caravan email list, write Wthomp4490[at]aol[dot]com. Subscribe to the Soldiers of Solidarity list here.

Comments

Mike Hughes | 12/12/13

December 8, 2013

Brother Bob King,

Cc. Brother Dennis Williams
Brother General Holiefield
Brother James Settles, Jr.
Brother Joe Ashton
Sister Cindy Estrada

I am one of many ardent supporters within the UAW and have been a member since 1976. I’m currently a member of Local 182, and because of a contract between the UAW and Ford Motor Company I also had the opportunity to hold memberships in both Local 600 and Local 900. But because of my father, Al Hughes, who was a member of Local 600, I was a member of the UAW long before I started paying dues.

I believe in and appreciate what the UAW stands for, economic and social justice battles are well worth fighting. With the help of the UAW I have been able to raise three children in a middle class neighborhood. There’s a long list of so many positives within my life, due solely to the collective bargaining process of which the UAW provided. A strong voice in the workplace is high on that list and a safer place to work is another.

I am a Democrat for much of the same reasons I support the UAW. I remember the suffering we UAW members went through in the 1980’s, mostly due to Ronald Reagan and Republican policies. Because of the unfair trade practices and Japan’s manipulation of the Yen, US automakers closed plants and the UAW lost a lot of its members.

Slowly the economy got better, the UAW lead the charge for local content legislation and some UAW members returned to work, but sadly not all of us had that chance. Tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters had to seek another way to make a living and the UAW was once again Front and Center, helping and providing opportunities for job retraining. This was good because the industry never did return anywhere close to the 1.5 million memberships we once enjoyed.

I totally understand what “reduction in force” means. Members of the UAW, our organization, have been dealing with it for decades. When we (the membership) lose employment opportunities at the plant level families become stressed, budgets have to be readjusted and most often sacrifices have to be made. Such as robbing Peter to pay Paul, going without, or we just make the hard decision to cut it from our budgets altogether. When we at the plant level incur these loses, we also lose the representatives we once counted on to help with the issues of the day. Surely you understand when that happens the remaining representatives are now over burdened with our needs. But the language in the contract dictates the course of action; we are left with no choice and with seemingly less of a voice.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we, the membership, have had to make hard choices. We have been reducing our budgets to coincide with the times. I have personally had to make an adjustment to the tune of about $30 thousand per year since 2009. A few days ago I read an article that said my union was contemplating raising the dues we pay. My initial reaction was like, “No way, this can’t be true, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Alas, it is true and as it turns out… not a joke. I’m still dismayed over this news and am left to wonder how/why you didn’t make adjustments in your budgets as well? How could the organization I revere so deeply, treat the membership’s money in such an irresponsible manner? How could the UAW treat its finances the same as our Federal, State, and Wayne County governments do? I thought you were better than that!

Can I be frank with you? The secrecy within the international portion of our union is a double edge sword. The fact that you won’t be forthcoming with information showing the reasons why a raise in dues is necessary, casts that shadow of doubt. The fact that the membership is basically unaware of any steps that you have taken to control your costs, other than an article or two that supposedly had you looking to sell Black Lake, which to my knowledge never happened, leads us to assume you haven’t made the hard choices the rest of the membership had to endure. Is there any truth to the rumor that International Reps. receive a pension from the UAW along with the pension they get from the company they came from?

Please don’t be naïve enough to think that this letter and the future decision members in Michigan have yet to make are made lightly. It’s a matter of trust. If we can’t trust you to operate as the Executives which preceded you… what’s the point? Equally, be assured that my disapproval of the proposed increase in dues hasn’t anything to do with $14.00 and change. It has everything to do with the principle of the matter. Besides that, the union receives more money from the members when you negotiate wage increases for the membership.

I hope you can tell just how very angry I am about this and I need you to know that I am not alone by any stretch of the imagination. The reasons are many, as you have no doubt already contemplated. Uppermost in my mind is the effect this will have on the heels of the new RTW law in Michigan. How many of those members already thinking about opting out of the union, will now be pushed enough to leave? How will that loss affect the ability to bargain better contracts in the future? Will it affect the new VEBA? If not now, will it later? How much thought has been given to the 600,000 retirees of how this might affect them down the road?

The fact we really don’t have a say or actual vote in this matter, doesn’t eliminate the need I feel to protest this action you are set to enact. As you are seemingly set to make a choice, I find it ironic it comes at a time where the entire human race celebrates Nelson Mandela’s life and what his defiance meant to the world. I along with so many other members will be left with a choice as well. My fear, which should be yours as well, is that many members will in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela; demonstrate peacefully through an action in a manner similar to your own, by opting out. Whether or not we want to admit or even recognize it, the new RTW law has and will change the way our union operates. The old days where people blindly followed are gone, new technology, the internet, social media, etc… have and will continue to influence our brothers and sisters at a much faster pace than ever imagined before. The Koch brothers and their like are real and are having an effect in their efforts to influence the already selfish conservative nature most people instinctively have.

One thing is for sure, those Reagan democrats are still among us and that should not be overlooked!

Sincerely & Fraternally,

Michael P Hughes
UAW local 182

Jingram100 | 12/09/13

Somewhere back in my training with the UAW, I seem to remember an alternative to paying dues. I'll check the UAW constitution, but I believe you can donate to a charity rather than giving to the "BIG DOGS" and still maintain good standings.
These bastards have negotiated my wages to an all time low and certainly don't deserve any increase from me.
The strike fund is a joke when the money gets to me. While the leaders bask in the wages they have voted for themselves!
John Ingram
UAW Local 751

Ralph Lyke | 12/09/13

Our fellow local union delegates will decide on the proposed change to our dues formula. I don't think that Brother Lare understands the rationale for this change. For most of his time as a UAW worker, he didn't have to work in the Tier Wage System.

Ralph Lyke
UAW