GEB Weighs Schedule
Change, Recruitment Plan
The unions General Executive Board weighed organizational, financial
and political issues at its regularly scheduled quarterly meeting here Jan. 21-22.
There was good news and bad news.
As a first act of business, the Board approved issuance of charters to
newly organized workers at public sector and manufacturing work sites in Iowa and Ohio.
The GEB greeted the report of UE Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley that the union has won
five elections since UEs National convention in late August.
A number of organizing efforts are underway, Kingsley reported;
rank-and-file organizing meetings have taken place in each UE district. UE is already
testing the "neutrality" pact reached between the International Federation of
Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers Unions (ICEM) and the World Chlorine
Council that took effect Jan. 1. (UE is an ICEM affiliate.)
In addition, new UE locals reached four first contracts in the last
quarter, Kingsley said.
But there were also two charters revoked as a result of plant closures
that plagued UE members last year despite the strong economy. Genl. Pres. John Hovis
read a letter of resignation from National Trustee Brian McKim, of Local 212,
due to the loss of his job in the partial closing of Beloit Fiber Systems in Pittsfield,
Mass. McKim expressed pride and satisfaction in "25-plus years" of UE
As part of the National unions continuing effort to balance
activities and finances, the national officers raised for discussion the possibility of
staggering the schedule of national union events.
Specifically, Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark proposed holding the
National Convention, and the Political Action Conference and Leadership Institute, in
alternate years. Clark, backed by the other two officers, suggested that financial
resources, time and energy could be saved by alternating these events, benefiting the
districts and locals as well as the National union. Fewer events might encourage more
participation from the locals, they said.
Discussion indicated widespread agreement that the National unions
1998 schedule may have been overloaded with a political action conference, UE National
convention and Labor Party constitutional convention. But not everyone was convinced that
the union should abandon the annual convention. Important to UEs democratic
practice, the annual convention gives delegates the opportunity to set policy and elect
the unions top officers every year. And while expressing concern about the
expenditure of finances and energy involved, many GEB members also cited the educational
value of the convention.
"Those who have commented on the wonderful aspects of the annual
convention are absolutely right," said Kingsley. "But can we afford it, how long
can we afford it and how does it fit in with the union today?" Also important to
consider, suggested Hovis, are the obstacles employers are increasingly placing in the way
of workers who try to take time off to attend union activities. "Its another
reason to look at the overall picture and find a balance," he said.
After a discussion that spanned two days, Board members decided to solicit
members views on the issue, particularly at this months district council
meetings. The GEB will revisit the matter at its May meeting.
The GEB also had a lengthy discussion on the proportion of people of color
on the UE staff, sparked by a letter to Pres. Hovis from Milwaukee local leaders. Dir. of
Org. Kingsley pointed out that in the mid-1990s the percentage of field staff who were
people of color reached an historic high of nearly 25 percent, while women and people of
color together made up more than half the staff. These percentages dropped as a result of
attrition and staff cuts in recent years, he said.
The officers expressed their commitment to develop plans to recruit and
retain people of color on the staff and recruit from within the unions ranks.
Pres. Hovis and Education Dir. Carol Lambiase distributed and
explained materials developed for workshops available through
the unions education program; Hovis noted the union is especially trying to bring
the educational program deeper within UEs ranks. Chris Townsend, UE political
action director, looked at the Labor Party convention and the partys plans for
campaigns on trade issues, workers rights, health care and defense of Social
Security. He explained the division of labor within the Labor Party that will see the
union taking responsibility for helping the party to advance its Social Security program.