The proposed financial plan came under scrutiny in an expanded Convention session, as the officers sought to encourage the fullest possible discussion. The plan, designed to secure a generation of stability and growth for the union, mandates budget cuts, a pay freeze for officers and staff, and a high level of organizing. These would occur in combination with increases in the monthly, per-member amount locals pay to the national union. Work sites where the average wage is less than $10 would be exempted from the per capita raise.
Key portions of the plan take the form of constitutional amendments which require ratification by the membership. Local voting is to be completed within 45 days of the Convention. Votes must be received at the National office no later than Nov. 9, 2001.
In a roll-call vote, delegates voted 125 to 36 (with one abstention) to recommend approval of an increase of monthly per capita from the current $12 to $18 by December 2003 in three steps. Voice votes approved transfer of monies from the Strike and Defense Fund to the General Fund and a schedule of increases in minimum dues, to $5.31 a week or $23 by 2003. (Minimum dues of $3.92 a week or $17 a month would be permitted if the average wage in the work site is less than $10 an hour.)
Discussion also covered the planned reduction of the frequency of UE NEWS publication and proposed switch to a biennial convention schedule.
A succession of delegates went to microphones with questions, concerns and comments, critical and otherwise. They represented large locals and small; long-established locals and those organized within the last decade; workers earning a decent wage and those facing a tougher struggle to make ends meet.
Some proclaimed unqualified support for the plan, certain that they spoke for those back home, too; others said they personally supported the plan, but were unsure if a majority back home felt the same way. Some declared their opposition, based on the conviction that their locals could not support the plan for financial reasons.
Delegates heard from Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark, who gave a detailed slide presentation on the union’s finances, indicating that the national union has cut expenses again in the past year. "Budget Review for Fiscal Year 2001" revealed that actual income received failed to equal projections, due to layoffs and plant closings. The presentation indicated that expenses came in on target in most areas and below projections overall, which drew a round of applause. Genl. Pres. John Hovis pointed out that the four biggest expenses are salaries, organization, group insurance, and national office rent.
The problem is in the numbers, said Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley in reviewing major elements of the financial plan. The union is not immune to the changing nature of the U.S. economy, he said. UE organizing success has been largely offset by the plant closings and layoffs caused by globalization. Deficit spending over the past 10 years supported the organizing that maintained UE’s membership levels. But the union can’t continue to draw down its reserve funds indefinitely, Kingsley observed.
The choices before UE are merger, dramatic reduction in services and staffing, or a new financial plan, the union officer said. The experience of other unions suggests that merger means paying more to get less; the second option means not being in a position to fight for the members, Kingsley said. UE’s leaders have chosen the third option.
A new plan is needed, the UE officer said. "We have been trying to organize our way to a secure future, but that hasn’t been enough," he said. The National union has cut spending, but that hasn’t been enough. Per capita increases haven’t been enough — if per capita had kept pace with inflation, it would now be more than $15, Kingsley observed. So the leadership is now seeking significant per capita increases of $6 over three years, to reach $18 in 2003. The first $3 is "catch up," to make up for inflation; the next $1.50 is "keep up," to cover inflation over the next few years, and the final $1.50 will shore up the union and put us ahead, he said. Kingsley stressed that the proposed increases would not affect those workplaces in which the average wage is $10 an hour or less. A task force will recommend constitutional amendments at the 2002 Convention to address the method of per capita payment, Kingsley noted.
"Ours is a special brand of unionism, a union worth fighting for," he said.
FIRST IN LINE
Don Way, Local 506, wanted to be the first one at a microphone to speak in favor of the plan. He also wanted to be the first to pay per capita under the new schedule, so he strode up to the podium and handed John Hovis a five-spot and a dollar bill. (Hovis returned the money.)
"Not many people are happy with this, and that’s understandable," Way said. "But look at your children, your standard of living, think of what you wouldn’t have if this union was dissolved tomorrow. I’ve got six daughters. I’m in support of this," he said.
Ed Havaich, Local 751, expressed his personal support for the plan, support not widely shared by co-workers. "What you are projecting is going down very difficult, we’re getting beat up about it," he told the officers. Glenn Bush, Local 1107, reported that his local was split over the issue, although he had concluded that "either we get this increase or we’re history."
According to Tom Dininny, Local 329, his Elmira, N.Y. local union supports the plan "100 percent." However, Dininny was personally troubled by the pay freeze for the officers and staff. "You wouldn’t let your family go without. I look at everyone here as part of my family," he said. Similarly, Rodney McCraw, Local 1174, agreed with the plan except for that detail. "I wouldn’t stand for it in bargaining. I don’t think we should allow our officers to do that," he said.
‘TOO HIGH, TOO MUCH’
The salary freeze for officers and staff was the one aspect of the plan Shirley Harrison, Local 1135, could unreservedly accept. A per capita increase of $6 would leave her local financially strapped and unable to handle its own affairs, she complained. "I will go back and ask for an increase in per capita, but $6 is just too much," Harrison stated.
A Local 299 delegation couldn’t be present, but Cynthia Salters, Local 243, relayed the message of Local 299 Pres. Dorothy Johnson that the proposed per capita increase was "too much." Chris Fiorentino, Local 243, said his co-workers believe the proposed increase is "too high."
Sue Smock, Local 506, did some calculations and concluded the per capita increase would cost about 80 cents a week. "I will squeeze 80 cents out somewhere," she said. "We have to continue as a union."
Likewise, Nina Williams, Local 799, couldn’t agree that the costs of the per capita increase outweighed the value of a strong union. "I am willing to sacrifice whatever I need to keep this union going," she declared. "Without the union we wouldn’t have had a 10 percent increase. Without the union we went four years without a raise. We had to organize to get it," she said. "If it takes $3, $4 or $10, I am willing to do so."
KEEPING THE UNION STRONG
"We are low-waged workers," said Barbara Prear, Local 150. "We won’t get a raise this year. We will have to fight for this back home, but we still support this."
Dudley Thomas, Local 792, added his support. As a member of another union 14 years ago he was already paying $58 a month in dues and had no voice in the organization. Her husband is a member of a union that appoints, not elects, its business agents, Lynda Leech, Local 618, observed. "We elect our officers. I want this union on its feet, not on its knees," she said.
Arguing for a dues increase may be a hard sell, suggested David Kitchen, Local 506, but it’s easier than discussing possible merger partners. "I don’t want to ever have that discussion," he said. "I’m awfully proud of what we’ve built, what we maintain, and what I hope we will maintain into the future."
When Bryan Martindale, Local 1421, heard a report on the financial plan from Bob Clark at a District 10 council meeting, he discussed the issue with his co-workers. They decided to substantially raise their dues to afford the per capita increases and beef up their treasury for contract negotiations. "I love this union, and I will do everything it takes to save it," he declared.
Delegates rejected a motion by Ray Pompano, Local 243, that sought to eliminate the task force charged with looking into alternative method of dues payment. The task force, made up General Executive Board and rank-and-file members from each district, will bring a set of proposals first to the General Executive Board and then to the 2002 convention.
A change from annual to biennial conventions is seen by some as an essential element of a long-range financial plan. District Two submitted a resolution affirming annual conventions. The Constitution Committee and the Convention both rejected the resolution on the grounds that there is an ongoing discussion on the issue to culminate in a debate and vote at the 2002 convention. Judy Atkins, District Two, and others spoke for the resolution. Several Constitution Committee members said they are not opposed to annual conventions but agreed that the issue should not be debated or decided at this convention.
Although no vote was taken, several delegates expressed strong objection to the reduction of the UE NEWS from 12 to eight issues a year as part of the financial plan’s budget cuts. "The savings is totally insignificant," argued John Thompson, Local 690. "How are we going to communicate with the members, and provide analysis and news of struggles, with eight issues a year?" he asked. "Yes, more people have computers and are on the Internet, but unorganized, low-wage earners don’t have that access."
Kim Peniska, Local 1187, agreed. "Not many own computers where I come from," he said. "Our paper’s a good educational paper, we should keep all 12 issues of it." Fred Garcia, Local 223, said the UE NEWS is well-read in his shop. "It’s important that we not drop the newspaper down to eight issues," he said.
Bill Austin, District 11, said that no one wants to see cuts — including reduction of the UE NEWS, biennial conventions or a salary freeze — but the reality is that for the union to function all of these cuts and per capita increases are necessary. An extra $6 a month may seem like a lot of money, Austin said, but broken down on an hourly basis it’s pennies.
Doug Whitcomb, District Two, said, "You’ve got a great union, for minimal costs, comparatively speaking. You can’t expect a better deal."
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