The Mayor opened the door for Democracy — and UE Convention delegates cheered, hoping that governments around the nation and globe would do likewise.
More than 200 delegates and guests marched on Aug. 30 through the streets of Burlington to attend both a rally at City Hall and an event unique for either labor unions or city governments.
Under the watchful eye of Miss Liberty, Mayor Peter Clavelle and City Councillor Bill Stahl cut a ribbon to mark the opening of the Burlington Workers’ Rights Center.
The first of its kind to be housed within city government anywhere in the United States, the UE-supported center will respond to questions and complaints about workplace problems. The ceremony concluded with Mayor Clavelle opening wide the door to City Hall for the Statue of Liberty (a 10-foot-tall puppet designed and operated by Tavia LaFollette).
Opening doors to democracy, worker power and solidarity in the new millennium dominated discussion throughout the 64th UE Convention Aug. 29 to Sept. 2.
PROSPERITY, PEACE AND EQUITY
The resolutions debated and adopted by convention delegates offer a vision of improved living standards and expanded rights in a prosperous, peaceful and more equitable world. Delegates earmarked portions of three resolutions — "Build Rank and File Political Action," "The UE National Organizing Plan" and "Fight for National Health Care for All" — for special action by the entire union (see: the Report of the Policy Action Committee).
Democracy had an open door at the UE Convention. Delegates acted on nearly 40 resolutions that will serve as UE policy for the next year. They endorsed constitutional amendments, including those that mandate dues increases and provide salary increases for the national officers and staff. In many unions, the rank-and-file have no say over officers’ salaries. In UE, salaries are written into the constitution and must be approved by the membership after convention action.
Delegates re-elected General President John Hovis, General Secretary-Treasurer Robert Clark and Director of Organization Robert Kingsley. Also elected were national trustees Dorothy Johnson, Local 299; Patrick Rafferty, Local 506; and James Lemke, Local 1111; and alternates Virginia Garrette, Local 767, and Craige Turner, Local 120.
DIFFERENT KIND OF UNION
In his address to the convention, Pres. Hovis declared that "UE exists to be different — and only exists because we are different."
In an example of that difference, Sec.-Treas. Clark came before the convention for a frank discussion on the national union’s finances. Largely due to efforts to build the union, UE continues to have a sizeable annual budget deficit. UE isn’t missing a beat, Clark said, as efforts are made to reduce the deficit. The union has the money to get its job done, he emphasized; in fact, the union’s deficit is in better shape now than it was eight years ago.
Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley also reflected on how the union was born in struggle. He and delegates made it clear that the struggle continues — in the streets and in cyber space as well. Delegates queued up to send an e-mail message of protest to CMI Inc, which forced UE Local 1187 members on strike in February.
UE struggles at the dawn of a new millennium have taken on an international character.
"Hey you with the red flag, get up here!" Responding to that direct but friendly invitation to occupy a more prominent place in the workers’ rights rally at City Hall, a fraternal delegate from Japan’s National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) marched up the steps — to appreciative applause.
As UE Local 758 members fight to win a first contract with Glastics Plastics, Japanese unions have delivered their demands to Kobe Steel, Glastics’ owner. Delegates gave a standing ovation to the Zenroren delegation.
Delegates also heard from a panel of trade unionists from Quebec, who share similar concerns about the corporate agenda and global economy, and from Beatriz Luján of Mexico’s Authentic Labor Front (FAT).
Calling for "Fair Trade Not Free Trade" the convention demanded that Congress re-negotiate all existing trade agreements, especially NAFTA, to reduce the ability of corporations to export U.S. jobs. UE delegates insisted on real tax reform. Unlike other unions, the UE didn’t spend a minute discussing endorsement of presidential candidates. Delegates had plenty to say about building the Labor Party, however. And they gave a warm welcome to Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s independent Member of Congress.
The convention took a strong stand against the shift to longer working hours. Delegates burst into applause when they heard a resolution calling for criminal penalties against bosses whose negligence leads to workplace injury or death.
Adding to the educational value of the convention, the better part of a day was devoted to workshops: Arbitration, Trade Union Response to Hate, Mid-Contract Changes, Bargaining Over Health Care, Using Access Laws in the Public Sector, Globalization, New Technology and Workplace Reorganization, Member-to-Member Harassment and Subcontracting and Privatization.
AT HOME IN VERMONT
The march to City Hall took delegates past the Flynn Theatre, where employees are members of amalgamated UE Local 221 — and waved and applauded from the window.
"Something is going on in the Green Mountain State," as Dir. of Org. Kingsley observed at the rally. As Genl. Vice Pres. Judy Atkins reminded delegates, UE has a long and proud history in Vermont. With a base in the machine tool history, UE became the largest private-sector union in the state. In recent years, the union has organized community health counselors and Head Start workers, including the members of recently formed Local 298 at Northeast Kingdom Community Action. The vote of more 300 service and maintenance employees of the University of Vermont to join UE and the first contract they recently achieved as Local 267 members represent major UE victories — which enthusiastic delegates recognized with a round of applause.
Atkins, president of UE’s New England region, opened the convention and administered the oath of office to the national officers and trustees.
Delegates observed a moment of silence for three individuals whose deaths in the past year brought an end to many decades of commitment to the union and its ideals: Ruth Newell, former UE field organizer and mother of former Genl. Sec.-Treas. Amy Newell; Ray Spinozzi, president of Local 155 and husband of District One Pres. Connie Spinozzi; and Evelyn Bell, retired District Six secretary/office manager.
The convention brought together four present and past UE organizing directors: Bob Kingsley, director of organization since 1992; Pres. John Hovis, who served as organizing director from 1984 to 1987; Labor Party Organizer Ed Bruno, who held the office from 1987 to 1992; and Hugh Harley, who retired from that post in 1984 after 13 years in office.
Good weather added to extracurricular enjoyment of the Lake Champlain waterfront and commanding views of the Adirondack Mountains and Burlington’s attractive shopping district. Delegates and their families enjoyed a cookout at a lakeshore park, sponsored by the host District Two.
Delegates elected Vermonter Mike "Rebel" Fortier, Local 273 convention sergeant-at-arms. Jonathan Kissam of Burlington Local 221 (with a borrowed guitar) led the convention in singing labor’s anthem, "Solidarity Forever."
An invocation was offered by Roddy O’Neil Cleary, affiliate minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington; Karen Chickering sang the National Anthem.
"It’s been a great week," said Pres. Hovis in the final moments of the convention. "Now comes the hard part — bringing words from the page to our day-to-day work."
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