UAW Accuride Workers Vote No Again
In what has become known as the UAW's modern-day David and Goliath story, the courageous members of UAW Local 2036 in Henderson, Kentucky voted overwhelmingly to reject the latest contract offer by their employer, Accuride. The Accuride plant is the nation's largest producer of steel wheels used on the big rigs.
The latest ratification vote, organized by the UAW International, was nothing more than what the 400 members had already voted down several times in the past 45 months.
Much more was expected from the International Union, who placed this tiny local in administratorship 18 months ago. The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA) is supposed to prevent abuses in the administration of union trusteeships. According to the LMRDA, a trusteeship is set up in part to assure the performance of collective bargaining agreements or other duties of a bargaining representative. After 18 months, the International Union has failed the members of Local 2036 miserably by placing the same contract on the table the members had already rejected several times.
JUST SAY NO
"We are wondering just how many ways we can say NO!," said Billy Robinson, the local's former president. According to Robinson, the International Union went behind the backs of the Local 2036 bargaining committee and with little more that a two-day notice, called for this latest vote.
Some locked-out members are now scattered to Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas and Florida, but Robinson's network was able to contact nearly two-thirds of those eligible to vote by posting a notice as members picked up their strike checks and by word of mouth.
The latest vote count found 97% of the local's members opposed to a contract that threatened the very existence of the union. It would have established a grievance procedure designed to eliminate the elected representatives by making the presence of bargaining committee members at second step meetings permissible, not mandatory, and would have increased the time between steps. The number of union representatives would also be reduced. If bargaining members attended the second step meetings with the company it would be done on their own time.
Members could get in and out of the union every April and would have to work 1900 hours to qualify for vacations in a normal work year of 2000 hours. Insurance costs for members would rise by the end of the contract to $200 for a family, and the proposal would give the company the right to cancel any or all coverages under the insurance plan, or change them at will. The company would also have the right to cancel or change the pension plan at will, which currently pays a mere $25.00 per month per year of service. At those rates, a 30-year retiree would gross only $750 per month, compared to a $2,730 per month pension from the Big Three in the last year of their contract, 2003.
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Perhaps the biggest blow would be in the numbers of employees allowed to return. Of the near 425 members who began the strike, only 80-110 people would return. No Power and Industrial Mechanics or janitors would be allowed to return, and inventory work would be outsourced.
Local 2036 went on strike in February 1998. The strike was authorized by the UAW International Executive Board; the Regional Director for the Kentucky area at that time was Ron Gettelfinger. Gettelfinger is out of a Ford Louisville Local, 862. Accuride is a supplier of that plant. According to Robinson, neither Gettelfinger nor the local's chairman or president have addressed Local 2036's issues with the members of that local. Yet Gettelfinger has been nominated to run for President of the UAW International, by the same board who authorized this strike with apparently no strategy on how to win it.
After six weeks on the picket line, faced with insurmountable odds, the members voted to return to work unconditionally. It was at that point Accuride locked them out. In December 1998 the UAW featured the Henderson members in its official publication, Solidarity magazine. Nine months later, the International cut off strike pay, health care, and other benefits to the more than 400 families in Henderson who had been out then over 18 months.
Robinson, who has memories or what a union used to be like and of his Granddaddy sipping moonshine on the front porch with John L. Lewis near the Eastern Kentucky coal mines, took the plight of his members to the Internet. Little by little, he began networking with UAW rank-and- file members across the United States and eventually around the world. His message was being read by members sending support from as far away as Australia and Germany.
In May 2000 his audience found their way to the doorstep of the International, in Detroit. Throughout the day, several hundred members turned out in support of Local 2036. The email campaign intensified and within three months the International reinstated his members' strike pay and benefits.
NO RECOMMENDATION AND NO REASON
Bill Priest, the local's current president, said the International made no recommendations and gave no reason for the sudden haste to vote. Some feel that the International just wanted to feel the membership out.
After 45 months on the picket lines, the financial devastation experienced by these members is incalculable with mere accounting measures. The socioemotional toll can never be reduced to figures on a ledger. But one thing is clear, the brave members of Local 2036 are voting no and will continue to vote no, for as long as it takes the International Union to bring them a decent contract.