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66th UE Annual National Convention

66th Annual
UE National

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First Resolutions;
Organizing Report

SEPTEMBER 17, 2001
Jump to Monday Afternoon Session

David Adams, District Six, read the second partial credentials report.

Judy Atkins, District Two, and Bill Austin, District 11, the co-conveners of the Resolutions Committee, took the stage; Atkins thanked the committee for its hard work and long hours. Steve Hyzer of Local 506, a committee member, read the resolution "Collective Bargaining." This comprehensive policy statement sets out the union’s contract bargaining goals.

Marianne Hart, District 10, spoke to Resolve 7, calling for time off for union business. This language is necessary for the union to function democratically; the resistance of employers, particularly in first contracts, impedes union education and organizing work. The Convention accepted an amendment offered by Mike Wilcox, Local 893, adding eye care and dental insurance to the resolution’s benefit goals. The Convention adopted the resolution.

In a dramatic report from the front-lines of UE struggle, two Local 1114 members told delegates of their ongoing Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) strike at Coach and Car in Chicago. Guadeloupe Alva, bargaining committee member and picket captain, and Octavio Morales, picket captain, were joined by International Representative Tim Curtin. The Local 1114 members explained that Coach & Car's last contract proposal demanded that 80% of the workforce accept a reduction of their wages to $6 an hour — following what the union alleges were a number of unfair labor practices on the part of the company in order to weaken the union's bargaining position. Temporary agencies supply the company with strikebreakers every day, prolonging the strike. But, Alva declared, the UE members are not going to return until victory is won.

Kim Peniska, Local 1187, made a successful motion that he pass the hat for the Coach and Car strikers. Peniska pointed out that he was on strike for nine months just two years ago and understood what the Local 1114 brothers were going through. "I’m putting my $10 in the hat," he declared. "Hang in there. There’s help on the way, right now!" Mike Rivera, Local 1421, asked for the local’s address, to develop support back home. Gerry LaValley, Local 274, announced that his Greenfield, Mass. amalgamated local pledged $100. Brother Alva expressed the strikers’ thanks.

The collection raised $1,091.

Resolutions Committee member Robin Greene, Local 204, read "For Workplace Health and Safety and an Ergonomics Standard." The resolution drew comments from Bob Miller, Local 155, Mary Stewart, 618, and Steve Hyzer, Local 506. The delegates emphasized that repetitive motion injuries are real, and that workplace and legislative action must gain remedies. Workplace injuries can indeed be caused by repetitive motion. Real injuries must be recognized as such — as co-workers know. The resolution was adopted.

Bill Austin, co-convener of the Resolutions Committee, read "Shop Floor Struggle." "If you stick together you can accomplish just about anything," declared Debbie Schulz, 689, who reported that her co-workers recently defeated the employer’s attempt to impose a 24-hour, seven-day rotating work schedule through concerted action. The basis for this union, said Glenn Bush, Local 1107, is "continuous education, mobilization," the strength of unity on the job with backing from the national union and district. The resolution was adopted.

Committee member Jonathan Kissam, Local 221, read "Rights of the Healthcare Worker," both a pointed indictment of healthcare conditions hazardous to workers and patients and a set of recommendations for solutions. The resolution drew comments from Rodney McCraw, Local 1174, Greather Grantham, Local 150, Shirley Thrush, Local 799, Lynda Leech, Local 618, Judy Hice, Local 1004, Clarence Hairston, Local 150, and Kim Peniska, Local 1187, before its adoption. The delegates spoke from their experiences as both healthcare workers and healthcare consumers, emphasizing the dangers and unfairness of understaffing, and the urgent need for better pay and working conditions for those who provide care to the sick and injured.

General President John Hovis explained the packet of 13 resolutions distributed to the delegates. These would not come to the floor for discussion and would be voted on as a group near the end of the Convention. These are resolutions that are essentially the same as those adopted in the recent past. Any resolution would be discussed if just one delegate requested discussion, Hovis said. The packet of 13 included resolutions on public education, bankruptcy, the Labor Party, U.S. involvement in Colombia’s civil war, the prison-industrial complex, an economy for the people, the blockade of Cuba, the environment, labor law reform, transportation of highly radioactive nuclear waste on U.S. highways and railroads, retiree committees, the School of the Americas, and the family farmer.

Judy Atkins, District Two, committee co-convener, read "Stop Plant Closings" – a resolution reviewing a major problem that has beset UE members and other workers, and offering remedies through both legislation and collective bargaining. "We can’t afford to have this happen any more," declared Kim Peniska, Local 1187, who discussed the threat of plant closing as an employer weapon in collective bargaining. Atkins remembered the UE members in District Two who have lost their jobs through the recent closure of United Shoe Machinery in Massachusetts and Stanley Tools in Vermont. The resolution was adopted.

The resolution "Make the Minimum Wage a Living Wage" was read by committee member Norma Sprague, Local 267. John Thompson, Local 690, arose to report on the living-wage ordinance fights in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. He urged delegates to participate in or initiate campaigns for living wage legislation in their localities. "Our tax dollars should not subsidize a sweatshop economy," he declared. The resolution was adopted.

John Thompson, as a member of the Resolutions Committee, read "Health Care for All," which lays out the nature of the health care crisis and proposes solutions centered on the Labor Party’s Just Healthcare campaign and creation of a single-payer system. Before adoption, a number of delegates rose in support and to comment on particular aspects of the resolves. They were Shirley Thursh, Local 799, Carl Rosen, District 11, Michael Marchman, Local 896, Fred Garcia, Local 223, James Fortier, Local 295, John Thompson, Local 690, Gerry LaValley, Local 274, Kim Peniska, Local 1187, Donald Way, Local 506, Will Anderson, Local 792, Shirley Harrison, 1135, Marianne Hart, 1421, and Bill Lally, Local 758.

Appropriately clad in a Superman T-shirt, Charles Tangle, Local 683, was elected Convention sergeant-at-arms. "Don’t tangle with Tangle," observed Chairman Hovis.

Continuing with resolutions, the Convention took up "Contract Bargaining Goals and Action Plan," read by committee member Joe Geraneo, Local 262. "If you follow these guidelines in the beginning, it will help you in the end," suggested Robin Greene, Local 204. "We have one of the best UE contracts in our area." Also speaking on the resolution were William Newsome, Local 150; Merle Crossland, Local 625, Shirley Thrush, Local 799, Clarence Hairston, Local 150, John Thompson, Local 690, Nancy Mayer, Local 683. The resolution was adopted.

Delegates reassembled across the street in Mellon Square for the official convention photo, taken by professional photographer and former CWA steward Jim Campbell.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2001

John Lambiase, District Six, Barbara Prear, District One, co-conveners of the Organizing Committee, presented "Organize the Unorganized: The UE National Organizing Plan."

Director of Organization Bob Kingsley delivered a report to the Convention that emphasized the difficulty, urgency and hopefulness of organizing. "We are organizing in tough times, economic times that make our organizing harder and more necessary at the same time," he said. During the economic recovery of the preceding decade, working people didn’t recover much. Instead, inequality grew by a number of measures, as workers’ incomes lost ground and the big bosses rewarded themselves with a 531% pay increase over the last 10 years. U.S. workers are working longer hours to make ends meet than workers anywhere in the world, Kingsley observed. And now we are in times of economic uncertainty, with no one certain of the depth of the present downturn.

The shift in wealth is due to the labor movement’s "power outage," said Kingsley, as union membership fell from 30% to 13% of the workforce in just a generation. "The less we are organized, the more we are going to be exploited," the union officer declared.

We organize to gain power, for justice, dignity and respect, Kingsley said. And there’s another basic reason: "to ensure the very survival of our organization," he said. The financial plan to be considered on Wednesday will provide the union with sufficient resources to keep on fighting for next 10 years. Kingsley reminded delegates that approaching half of the union’s locals were organized in just the last 10 years. Had the resources not been made available then, "half the people you see here today would not be here." The question before the membership is this, the organizing director said: "Will we have an offense, or will we become resigned to decline?" In the past 12 months, 73 UE locals have lost membership, nine of them experiencing plant closings Altogether approximately 1,200 members were lost due to layoffs and closings. "We don’t expect next year to be all that different," he added.

The good news, Kingsley said, is that a combination of new members reaching first contracts and coming directly into dues-paying status offset those membership losses. "That means we ended the year with just about the same number of members as we started," Kingsley said — adding that the "miracle" of the 1990s was the union’s ability to hold the line against declining membership levels through organizing. UE has the same number of members today that we had in 1992. UE held the line even while other industrial unions experienced huge membership losses. "There’s not much middle ground as I see it," the organizing director said. Without the resources to organize and grow, "we’re in a free fall into the dustbin of history."

The 1990s miracle was achieved by a hard-working staff and the contributions of volunteer organizers. In the past year more than 200 members from some 40 locals assisted in organizing. Director of Organization Kingsley asked those present to stand; their contributions were acknowledged with a round of applause. Greater membership assistance in organizing will be needed in the year ahead; the plan calls for organizing schools and Regional Organizing Committees (ROCs), he said. With lost-time costs split 50/50 by local unions and the national union, the ROCs would consist of UE activists who would develop and work on regional organizing plans and recruit co-workers, Kingsley said. The UE officer stressed that the help is needed: "we’re trying to do as much as we did 10 years ago with a third fewer organizers on the ground." We need to call on our members. Our hope is to get the first ROCs up and running this fall.

In reviewing the work of the past year, Kingsley reported that there are nearly 700 new members in the ranks of statewide UE Local 150 in North Carolina, who came into the union as a result of the union’s "dignity" campaign in state Department of Health and Human Services facilities since March of this year. With more than 1,000 members, Local 150 is now one of 10 largest locals in UE — and, said Kingsley, "the potential for further growth is enormous." Further, UE successfully concluded six first contracts covering 1,000 workers at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, two bargaining units employed by Grafton County, New Hampshire, GATX, Glastic Corp. and Niagara LaSalle.

Kingsley said organizers engaged in a broad search for new campaigns, reaching out to 300 workplaces, more than 200 of them in industrial sector. These included sister shops in the GE, Rockwell, Consolidatd Containers, and Freudenberg chains, and cooperative work with the California Nurses’ Association, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy and Mine Workers (ICEM), Mexico’s Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and Japan’s National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren).

UE remains locked today in three first-contract struggles, Kingsley said. He reviewed the tough fight to achieve agreements covering hundreds of new UE members at The Electric Materials Company (TEMCO), Berlin Health and Rehabilitation, and ISSI, and appealed to delegates to write messages on postcards (on their tables and attached to leaflets) to be sent the bosses of the three companies.

Kingsley concluded by declaring that the hope found in UE’s historical resilience and bedrock principles will see the union through this "time of testing."

Delegates rose to their feet for a standing ovation as a large Local 150 contingent proceeded to the stage. They heard from new members Annie Dove, president of the chapter at the O’Berry Center, and William Newsome, president of the chapter at the Cherry psychiatric hospital. The new two members outlined for delegates the union’s progress since March and the issues around which their co-workers are organizing.

International Representatives Marion Washington and Carol Lambiase introduced delegates to representatives of the newest UE local: only three days earlier the staff of the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind in Pittsburgh had voted last week to affiliate to UE as Local 613. Present were President Norm Yeargers, Vasu Babu and Treasurer Paul Weber. President Yeargers described the work of the staff’s work and the school’s high standards responsible for the facility’s recently achieved status as a "blue-ribbon" school. "Only one union was able to meet our high standards — UE," Yeargers said, noting that the staff had formerly belonged to the American Federation of Teachers. Teachers and nurses felt out of touch with that union and disaffiliated some years ago. "We are proud to be members of UE," he declared.

Local 1004 President Judy Hice recounted the tactics, including ribbons, buttons, postcards, candlelight vigil, picketing, and finally, a strike notice, that achieved a first contract with Henry Mayo Hospital. The agreement includes a union shop provision and advance notice of changed work schedules, along with other improvements.

Local 1166 Vice President Patrick Grant reminded delegates that GATX Logistics workers had to go through two representation elections before facing their own tough fight for a first contract. A one-day strike got the attention of GATX’s main customer, General Motors — the strike shut two GM production lines — which led to a settlement. And it was a good contract. Larry Comer, Local 1166, recalled how UE’s militant reputation worried the company and convinced him that this was the right union. "I’m glad to be a part of UE!" he said.

Local 758 President Bill Lally told the story of union organizing at the Glastic Corp. — from an uninspiring Steelworkers campaign in 1981 to the frustrations of overcoming fierce company resistance during the eventually successful UE campaign in 1998 — and the 25-month fight for a first contract that included rallies by UE and its allies in Cleveland, New York and Tokyo and that was complicated by the sale of the plant. Finally, last November Glastic workers overwhelmingly ratified a first contract that includes the union shop and 100% company-paid health insurance for the agreement’s term.

Delegates were on their feet, clapping, as Karen Harden, Local 758 chief steward, sang the "Ballad of Fred;" to the tune of the Beverley Hillbillies theme, it’s a wicked satire on a boss who vowed he’d never sign a contract with UE. (He didn’t: the new owners canned him.)

The members of new Local 254 have made the front page of Vermont’s major newspaper several times, most recently on Labor Day. And no wonder — they are the first nursing home workers in Vermont and the first in the CPL/REIT chain in the United States to win a union election. The Canadian-based corporation has hired one of the most notorious U.S. unionbusting law firms to wipe out the union. Local 254 members — 120 workers, nurses aides, kitchen aides and others — are making headlines by pressing their fight for a first contract in two nations and by calling public attention to the scandal of understaffing in Vermont nursing homes. Delegates heard from International Representative Kim Lawson and Local 254 member Crystal Greer, who declared, "We still don’t have first contract but we are strong in our fight."

International Representative Deb Gornall and Mick Patrick, a steward and negotiating committee member, gave delegates an update on the ongoing, 21-month-long struggle for a first contract at TEMCO: the company is on trial for more than 50 unfair labor practice charges but is still violating workers’ rights — and workers are still fighting back. "I ask for your aid in accomplishing our goal," Patrick said, "not just to help my shop, but to help others, too."

Following a short break, delegates offered their comments on the organizing plan. Ray Pompano, Local 243, wondered why only 25% of field staff have organizing as their primary assignment. Doug Whitcomb, District Two, commented, "we have a wonderful resolution. Now we have to find ways of actually putting it into effect." John Lambiase, District Six, looked forward to the success the union would enjoy the day when staff assisted the members in organizing, instead of the reverse. John Thompson, Local 690, spoke as someone fired during a tough organizing campaign in stressing the necessity of members building the union. "It can be done if we work together," declared Laverne Ollison, Local 1193. Barbara Prear, Local 150, counseled that the union should be open to new approaches to organizing. The Convention adopted the organizing plan and dismissed the committee with thanks.

On behalf of the Resolutions Committee, Jim Lemke, Local 1111 read "Build UE Rank and File Political Action."

Delegates heard from Political Action Director Chris Townsend who placed political developments in the context of "an economic situation that looks scarier and scarier." He noted that the "world shaking events" of the past week would further destabilize our economy." The collapse of the stock market has its ramifications for UE members in plant closings and budget cuts and layoffs in both the private and public sectors. Big business and the Bush Administration seek to surrender Social Security to Wall Street and fast-track negotiating authority for the President in order to push through the Free Trade Area of the Americas, an expansion of NAFTA. Aware that his Presidency lacks legitimacy, Bush’s backers are continuing the election campaign by courting African-American, Hispanic and trade union support, Townsend said.

The discussion on the resolution was continued until Tuesday morning.

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