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The 65th Annual UE National Convention

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Convention Electrifies Erie

Stories of Courage and Liberation

Aggressive Struggle Key to Improved Contracts

Healthcare Workers Demand Better Conditions for Staff, Patients

'Stop the Attack on Public Education'

'Defend Jobs and Services, Reject Privatization'

Kingsley: 'The Only Choice is to Build This Union!'

Nader: 'I Will Always Defend Labor'

Hargrove: 'Globalization Doesn't Mean Surrender'

Hill: 'Fighting for Workers' Humanity'

Roberts: 'We Haven't Been Asking for Enough'

Bourgeois: 'Close Army Training School'

On Racism, Women's Rights & Homophobia

Convention Photo


Convention Information

UE Policy

UE News

65th Annual UE Convention
Electrifies Erie

Nader, Rally, Mural Make News,
UE Delegates Make History


UE General Officers (center, from 65th Convention Photo)

We have met the UE Convention and it’s awesome!" is not what Oliver Hazard Perry said following the Battle of Lake
Erie but it was the buzz in Pennsylvania’s third-largest city for five days in late August.

In dinors (that’s not a typo), bars and workplaces, in the papers and on TV, and in and out of the downtown Avalon Hotel, the 65th UE Convention electrified Erie.

National conventions are not a daily occurrence in this Great Lake-port city. And this one, UE’s first in Erie, was no ordinary convention.

The UE Convention delegates assembled here from around the country grabbed attention by:

  • Inviting consumer advocate Ralph Nader to speak, and then debating a resolution calling upon the union to endorse him for President (Nader’s the Green Party candidate) [Editor's Note: under federal law, we cannot reveal the outcome of that debate on our website. Here's why ...];

  • Traveling to the nearby town of North East for a plant-gate rally in support of new Local 684’s fight for a first contract with TEMCO;

  • Inaugurating a vibrant, exciting mural celebrating working women and international labor solidarity.

Delegates deliberated on more than 30 resolutions, responded to speakers of substance, acted on constitutional amendments and elected UE’s national officers and trustees. They also pigged out at a pig roast and boogied at a banquet.

Re-elected for another term are General President John Hovis, General Secretary-Treasurer Robert L. Clark and Director of Organization Robert B. Kingsley. Trustees are Patrick Rafferty, Local 506, Jim Lemke, Local 1111, and Dorothy Johnson, Local 299; alternates are Craige Turner, Local 120, and Virginia Garrette, Local 767.

Delegates came from a variety of workplaces, reflecting the union’s growing occupational diversity. Social workers from Iowa, school bus drivers from Ohio, health care workers from California, North Carolina and Vermont, to name a few, mixed with workers from electrical manufacturing, machine and metalworking and plastics factories from coast to coast.

Among those present were representatives of some 1,600 workers in 11 different bargaining units organized in the previous year, as well as representatives of several independent unions who came as guests.


UE General President John Hovis

UE General President
John Hovis

Genl. Pres. John Hovis captured the pride delegates and new members have in their union: "Member for member, dollar for dollar, UE is the most progressive and hardest working union in this country today." In his opening remarks, the union president declared, "UE may not be the largest union in the country, and we sure aren’t the richest. But we have a firm belief in what we are doing and the goals we are trying to accomplish. And we will survive as long as we work together."

The year 2000 is significant for UE, Hovis said, not only because of its first convention in Erie, but also because of the self-liquidation of the IUE — a union created with the primary purpose of destroying and replacing UE. As a result of merger with the Communication Workers of America, the IUE will be out of business after 50 years, effective Oct. 1. The IUE was set up by a discredited former UE president, with the backing of big business and politicians.

"Why do we celebrate our 65th Convention with high spirits, looking to the future, while the IUE with more than 100,000 members and total assets of over $36 million, decides they can no longer make a go it after 50 years?" Hovis asked. The IUE leadership determined it couldn’t survive.


While money’s an important factor, the UE president said, "there’s something more to a union than collecting dues." There are also deeply rooted beliefs, dedication, a broader view, "one that goes beyond the daily routine of handling grievances and arbitrations." Hovis continued, it’s also about being able to have an impact on the labor movement and society, regardless of your size. It’s having a reason to exist, something that sets you apart that gives you the will to survive."

"UE is not in immediate danger of disappearing or having to actively seek a partner or merger," the union leader asserted. "But as you all know, we aren’t immune from the loss of membership caused by plant closings, downsizings, job combinations, privatization, globalization and other management schemes."

But instead of packing it in, UE has invested more time and resources to advance the cause of rank-and-file unionism — through expanded education programs, organizing, political action, Hovis noted.


"Like the much publicized Energizer bunny, UE just keeps going and going and going," Hovis said. Through it all, UE has maintained its original basic principles. The union’s dedication to democratic practices have been crucial to union’s survival, Hovis emphasized.

"Our goal is to build a progressive, militant organization that can help win economic justice and political freedom for working people around the world," he said.

In negotiations, employers learn that "UE members have both the knowledge and the determination to win — if not everything they may have wanted, always more than the boss wanted to give."

"We belong to a one-of-a-kind union, a special organization with a special place in history and what we hope will be a special place in the future," Hovis said. To make sure the UE avoids the IUE’s fate, Hovis told delegates, "It’s our duty — yours and mine — to take the collective actions necessary to carry on the work so many before us began."


UE General Secretary-Treasurer Bob Clark

UE General Secretary-Treasurer Bob Clark

Delegates received a straightforward report on the union’s finances from Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark. With the aid of charts and graphs projected on a screen, Clark explained that the projections of the UE’s five-year plan are largely on target, with one exception.

Although UE organizing has been successful, the numbers fell short of the goal set in the five-year plan. "The boss and the law — that’s why," Clark said. The real obstacles faced by workers trying to organize on the one hand and plant closings on the other have hurt the union’s ability to achieve the optimum membership numbers projected by the plan, he said.

One chart demonstrated the budget proposed to General Executive Board three months ago, enabling the union officer to point out the biggest expenses facing the union (salaries and expenses). This is the first time a budget has been reduced to paper for discussion, Clark pointed out, nothing that continued hard work must go into building the union.

Delegates had their say about the union’s finances. Proposals to transfer $1.3 million from the Strike and Defense Fund to the General Fund and exonerate monies borrowed from the Strike Fund drew a number of delegates to floor mikes with questions and criticism as well as expressions of confidence in the officers and support for UE’s organizing program. The Convention gave its backing to both proposals.


UE convention delegates rally for TEMCO workers ...
TEMCO worker Mark Howard addresses the rally ...

TEMCO worker Mark Howard addresses plant gate rally (above). U.S. Rep. Ron Klink promises to fight for labor law reform (left, with Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley).

U.S. Rep. Ron Klink promises to fight for labor law reform ...

Delegates took their energy and unity to the streets of the town of North East and the gates of The Electric Materials Co. (TEMCO). Negotiations for a first contract between UE and TEMCO have yielded little progress since they began February 4, following UE's organizing win. The National Labor Relations Board recently cited TEMCO for the firing and suspension of union leaders and for failure to provide necessary information to the union.

Delegates shook hands with TEMCO workers (who were on their lunch break) through the factory fence, roared their disapproval of unionbusting and heard from TEMCO workers and local political leaders. U.S. Rep. Ron Klink, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum, pledged to fight for labor law reform.


Celebrating international solidarity and diversity in Erie ...

Mural inauguration: 'a celebration of diversity like this city’s never seen before' ... the artist, Juana Alicia, describes the symbolism of the international solidarity-promoting mural with help from her daughter, Mayahuel.

Salsa — and salsa dancing — in the Local 506 Hall? The reception inaugurating the mural was "a celebration of diversity like this city’s never seen before," enthused Local 618 Pres. Betsy Potter. Local 506 Pres. David Adams relayed Erie GE workers’ excitement about the project.

The mural electrified the delegates, Local 506 and 618 members, GE retirees and community leaders in the room. Bright and vibrant, big in size and conception, the mural celebrates working women and international solidarity with scenes from U.S. and Mexican labor history.

Muralist Juana Alicia proclaimed that "organizing and art are one and the same movement," making possible the eradication of racism and sexism.

Benedicto Martinez, general coordinator of Mexico’s Authentic Labor Front (FAT), praised the vision of international labor solidarity that inspires the UE-FAT alliance and the mural.

Former UE general secretary-treasurer Amy Newell
Former UE general secretary-treasurer Amy Newell

Amy Newell, former general secretary-treasurer, reminded listeners that UE’s interest in "international solidarity was there from the beginning." Cold War politics froze the AFL-CIO into an empty relationship with Mexico’s government-dominated labor federation. As the fight against NAFTA loomed, UE looked for allies — and found an independent, democratic union in Mexico.


RAGE leader and retired Local 506 member Charlie Fry

RAGE leader and retired Local 506 member Charlie Fry

The Retirees Association of General Electric — RAGE — was much in evidence during the convention week. RAGE members prepared and served food at the lakefront picnic/pig roast and turned out for the mural inauguration, Nader speech and discussion on the resolution "UE Retiree Committees — A Wealth of Experience and Activism." When Pres. Hovis announced that RAGE members were present in the hall, delegates arose applauding. RAGE leader and retired Local 506 member Charlie Fry spoke on the resolution, encouraging the creation of retiree organizations in defense of pensioners and for the good of the union. Betsy Potter, Local 618, said her members are proud of RAGE: "They’re a study in organizing."

In her greetings to the delegates, Erie Mayor Joyce A. Savocchio credited UE and Local 506 with helping to move the labor movement and city forward. Paula Madura sang the National Anthem. Rev. Clifton McNair of the Word of Life Center offered a stirring prayer of thanksgiving for a new day and a new era for unions. Local 683 Pres. Charles Tangle was elected sergeant-at-arms.

What’s special about the union is its members, what’s special about Erie is its citizens — and they are often the same people, said District Six Pres. John Lambiase, in welcoming delegates to Erie. He pointed out that the Erie area is home to UE’s largest local and one of the union’s newest in the manufacturing sector. Erie has been a growth area for the union the 1990s, Lambaise said.

"As we turn 65, we are not going to let any boss retire us," Lambiase declared.

[Note: this story is an edited version of the one which appeared in the September, 2000 edition of the UE News].

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