PITTSBURGH — Delegates to the 66th UE National Convention elected long-time District One leader Bruce Klipple as general secretary-treasurer and approved a financial plan designed to secure a generation of stability and growth for their union.
Key elements of the financial package, including dues increases, take the form of constitutional amendments subject to approval by the membership. Local votes are now taking place (see: Financial Plan).
Klipple succeeds Bob Clark, who chose not to run for re-election after seven years in office. Incumbent officers John Hovis, general president, and Bob Kingsley, director of organization, were re-elected without opposition.
Given the discussion on UE’s finances and the union's strategy for growth, the mood was appropriately sober and serious. But there was another reason for the somber tone — delegates gathered at the William Penn Hotel just five days after the worst terrorist attack in history. The horror of Sept. 11 weighed heavily on everyone’s mind.
‘LOSS, DESPAIR, OUTRAGE’
The opening of the 66th UE National Convention was like none of the previous sixty-five. As the nation mourned for the victims of the devastating terrorist attacks of the preceding Tuesday, delegates and leaders also expressed their sorrow, anger, and hopes for peace.
Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley read a short, powerful statement expressing union members’ "sense of loss and violation, despair and outrage." The statement, adopted on Sept. 14 by the UE General Executive Board, demands that the perpetrators be brought to justice. It also declares that "Verbal slurs and physical assaults against our Arab-American and Islamic neighbors and co-workers must be countered, condemned and stopped."
The greatest memorial to the slain, said the UE statement, "will be a world of peace, tolerance and understanding, underscored by the solidarity of working people."
With those words read, Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark proceeded through the hall with a wreath, which he placed on the convention stage. The wreath was kept there throughout the Convention, as a continual reminder of union members’ grief. Genl. Pres. John Hovis then asked for a moment of silence for the victims and their families.
It was only then that the Convention got underway according to what could be considered a "normal" agenda — with everyone recognizing that these were in no way normal circumstances.
WORKSHOPS, NO RALLY
A march to Pittsburgh’s Federal Building and rally against the Free Trade Area of the Americas and former U.S. Army School of the Americas was canceled due to the terrorist attack.
In addition to debating and acting on constitutional amendments, delegates spent much of the week discussing and voting on 45 resolutions, raising from "Stop Plant Closings" to "Make the Minimum Wage a Living Wage" to "Fight Homophobia." Delegates also attended workshops on defined benefit plans, indoor air quality and ventilation, collective bargaining, inside strategies, trade, 401(k) savings plans, carpal tunnel and bargaining strategies (see: UE Policy).
The incoming general secretary-treasurer Bruce Klipple, described by District One Pres. Connie Spinozzi in her nominating speech as "a people person," expressed his belief that "the answers lie with the rank and file."
"I am confident John, Bob and I will work very well together, building our union, making it strong. I believe in this, deeply," Klipple said. "I’m up for the challenge."
"Thank you, thank you, thank you, for allowing me to serve as general secretary-treasurer for the last six years — it’s been an honor," declared Bob Clark. He also thanked the many members, local and district leaders who worked hard in an unsuccessful effort to convince him to reconsider his decision not to run for re-election.
Some well-wishers regard Clark’s decision to accept a position as international representative in District 11 as a "bad career move," but he countered that "career moves are for corporate bosses. I’m a trade unionist." Clark, who has served on the General Executive Board since 1984, as District 11 secretary, District 11 president, and general secretary-treasurer, assured delegates that he will continue to work hard for the union. Of all the items to be brought home to Milwaukee, the most important is the UE Organizing Plan 2001-2002, he said. Clark received a prolonged standing ovation.
The election of officers followed a lengthy and open discussion on union finances and the proposed constitutional amendments. Pres. Hovis, re-elected by acclamation, took the opportunity to apologize to anyone whom he might have offended during the debate over the union’s future. "We need our unity, we need to be working together, we need each other," the president said. "Let’s join together and rebuild this great organization." Delegates showed their appreciation for that sentiment with a standing ovation.
The convention elected James Lemke, Local 1111, David L. Kitchen, Local 506, and Dorothy Johnson, Local 299, as trustees, Craige Turner, Local 120, as first alternate trustee and Virginia Garrette, Local 767 as second alternate.
‘PRAY, BUT FIGHT’
In his opening address to the Convention, Genl. Pres. Hovis declared, "In tragic times like these, I can think of no better words to express my feelings than those of Mother Jones: ‘pray for the dead, fight like hell for the living!’"
In his remarks, the veteran union leader described the qualities that make UE unique, effective and worth fighting for: union members taking responsibility, getting involved, running their own union. UE, he said, is "the belief that working people should have the opportunity to join an organization that gives them the ability to set their own agenda and determine their own destiny."
Pres. Hovis outlined the difficulties the union faces today in "advancing a worker-friendly political and economic agenda," especially the effort by politicians and Wall Street to privatize Social Security and expand NAFTA and the continuing corporate mergers, sales, bankruptcies and plant closings. He blasted the "sleazy white collar crooks and investment scheme profiteers" behind plant closings and layoffs.
AID FOR DAMAGED ECONOMY
The tragic events of Sept. 11 threaten an already weak economy, said the UE leader, who offered his advice for repairing the damage — a living wage and labor law reform, to give real bargaining power to workers. UE continues to give a high priority to organizing, and gives more time and resources to organizing than most unions, Hovis said.
UE may not have all the answers on organizing, but does with regard to collective bargaining, Hovis commented, pointing out that UE members generally do better than the members of other unions. "Collective bargaining goals and grievances are won by union members engaged in aggressive struggle in the workplace, working in unison with well-trained stewards," the union president said. "It’s that simple — and that difficult."
Progress in all areas of the union’s work will depend on ensuring the union’s financial stability, the UE president said. UE leaders believe the financial plan before the Convention "represents a balance between curtailing deficit spending on one hand and maintaining the appropriate level of staff, union programs and membership services on the other." The nature of the discussion makes UE stand out, Hovis suggested. "There’s not another union in country that would dare to go to the members with these issues, especially a proposal for a substantial per capita increase" — or put the issue to a vote. That is another indication of what UE is all about, he said — "and why it is worth fighting for."
Without fanfare, a president of the United Steelworkers of
America addressed a UE convention for the first time in history. For Leo
Girard, the Sept. 18 UE appearance was his first trip outside of the
Steelworkers’ headquarters since the terrorist attack a week earlier.
Like so many of us," the union officer said, he hadn’t "quite
recovered from the events of last week." This is a time of
reflection; his conclusion is that "more than ever" society
needs the labor movement and its values, its sisterhood and brotherhood.
The exciting possibilities of progressive change came through clearly in the remarks of Bertha Lujan. For many years a national coordinator of the Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and a leader of the fight against NAFTA, Lujan is now chief financial oversight officer of Mexico City’s government. Not only do Lujan and other members of the new administration face the challenge of providing basic services to one of the world’s largest cities, they must also confront — and undo — seven decades of corruption and anti-democratic practices. Lujan was invited to join the government because the FAT — like UE — has a reputation of honesty and democratic practices and therefore her appointment would contribute to the new administration’s credibility. The government has also recruited hundreds of other union members and activists from citizens’ organizations.
Father Jack O’Malley, official labor chaplain of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, and a former Detroit Pistons free-agent pick, expressed his appreciation at being with "like-minded" people in these trying and difficult days. "Our response to this slaughter of innocent people must be measured with justice," Father O’Malley said. He offered a prayer that spoke of "real heroes" in a reality that seems like a bad dream, that asked for greater understanding in this period of crisis, of building "a world of justice and peace."
Genl. Vice Pres. John Lambiase extended to delegates a welcome to District Six on behalf of the 19 locals in western Pennsylvania, western New York and West Virginia — including the newest UE local, Local 613 in Pittsburgh (see: 'Organizing').
UE Cartoonist Gary Huck introduced a recently completed agitational animation video which proclaims labor’s rebirth. 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.
[Note: this story is an edited version of the one which appeared in the October, 2001 edition of the UE News].
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