Jeep Workers Try Boycott of Contract Vote
On October 1, production workers at the three Toledo Jeep plants in UAW Local 12 voted 57%-43% in favor of a one-year contract with DaimlerChrysler (DCX). Skilled trades workers, however, narrowly rejected the contract and sank the skilled trades supplement.
The skilled trades’ “No” vote represents a building frustration with union leaders who continue to accept management concessions (see box). Local 12’s leadership responded to the anger on the shop floor by forcing a second vote on the skilled trades supplement. A redbaiting campaign backfired and led to more resentment toward the leadership.
Jeep workers submitted to a five-year contract in 1997 that offered work rule concessions-including “team concept”-massive layoffs, and special mandatory overtime (ten-hour days, usually at six days per week) to support the launch of the new “Liberty” model at a new plant.
With Liberty workers now meeting great demand at full production, Local 12 members expected some restoration of things they surrendered in 1997.
Instead the Local 12 leadership offered a mere 3% raise with no job security guarantees. They argue that nothing can be done about the company program to eliminate jobs and pile the extra workload and work-time onto the shrinking Jeep labor force.
Union leaders negotiated a one-year contract so that Jeep workers could fold into the national agreement covering other DCX workers when it expires next year. If conditions continue to deteriorate, the fight over the Jeep contract could be the opening skirmish for a larger DCX contract struggle in 2003.
Production and skilled workers began a rank-and-file “vote no” leaflet campaign before the first vote. People from the PQI teams (Productivity and Quality Improvement partnership) responded with a flyer titled “Red Alert.”
It accused “vote no” people of attending “communist/socialist party meetings” and insinuated that they wanted to “disrupt our economy.” The flyer urged Jeep workers to “Vote YES, it is the AMERICAN WAY!” The redbaiting flyer backfired; it actually generated sympathy for the “vote no” activists.
Local Chairperson Nick Vuich referred to the skilled trades’ rejection of the contract as “a morale issue.” In the same vein, one could say that the Titanic had an “iceberg issue.”
Vuich refused to return to the table after the rejection, and told the skilled trades they would have to vote on the supplement until they got it right. Their only options were voting for the 2002 contract or the 1997 contract. The program of job elimination would continue under either one.
KEEP YOUR BALLOT
Many skilled trades denounced “double voting” on the same supplement. A grassroots movement urged members to “Keep Your Ballot” for the October 14 vote and demand that the leadership renegotiate a decent contract. The plan was to keep ballot boxes empty and wave all of the “kept ballots” at union leaders in the next skilled trades union meeting.
Workers also signed a formal appeal of the October 1 vote, after hearing allegations that a ballot box had been opened before the polling station closed. The appeal also complained about retirees voting on the contract. Vuich dismissed the appeal, calling it an “illegal petition,” circulated without permission of the local’s executive committee.
This was followed by yet another redbaiting antic. Partnership people posted a flyer, signed “Proud to be an American,” urging “Keep Your Ballot” folks to “GO BACK TO RUSSIA!” This flyer enraged sympathetic UAW members who are proud veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
At the October 14 “double vote,” 15 skilled trades workers publicly destroyed their ballots at the polling station. Others wrote “STRIKE” on the ballot’s face and placed it into the unsecured cardboard box. Others simply wrote “VOID” on the ballots, or decorated them with obscenities. Over one hundred skilled trades workers simply held their ballots.
At the end of the day the union announced that the 2002 supplement received 80% (300 votes) to the 1997 supplement’s 20% (79 votes). Yet some 710 skilled trades workers were eligible to vote, which means only 42% voted for the 2002 supplement. The vote is not a mandate for the contract, and it certainly is not a mandate for UAW Local 12’s leadership.
Later that week, workers made jokes about the fact that on the same day of the “double vote,” Saddam Hussein was elected. They said the voters in Iraq had a ballot that looked like this:
the old Saddam
the new Saddam.
George Windau is a millwright at the Jeep Liberty plant.