State of the Union
In UE District Six
UE Dist. 6 Pres. John Lambiase
The process of revitalizing the union in western Pennsylvania, western New York and West Virginia continued at the
District Six Council meeting here Feb. 23-24. The October meeting revealed the considerable amount of experience among the council
delegates. Last month the council took inventory of the state of union.
Delegates were asked to indicate how often locals conduct membership meetings, if all members receive the UE NEWS
regularly, if locals have their full complement of officers and stewards, and other indicators of union well-being. In a workshop,
delegates placed stickers on a large wall chart that have graphic representation to the status of their locals.
"It’s a snapshot of how our locals are functioning," District Six Pres. John Lambiase tells the UE
As a follow-up to the district council meeting, locals are completing a detailed questionnaire on their structure and
activities. The long-term goal, Lambiase explains, is to develop individual development plans for each of the locals. "It’s about
being better as a district."
A workshop on each day of the meeting emphasized the goal of well-organized, active local unions. Two Local 506 officers,
Chief Plant Steward David Kitchen and Bus. Agent Pat Rafferty, along with Lambiase, led a workshop on "the building
blocks of an effective rank-and-file local." Intl. Rep. Dave Cohen later led a workshop on "aggressive shop floor
Pres. Lambiase emphasizes that the activities encouraged in the second are dependent upon the first. "We can’t do
the fun things, and take on the boss, if we don’t have a good, tight organization to begin with." That means having regular member
and executive board meetings, for example, he said.
INTO THE FUTURE
The district council heard reports on the biennial convention issue but took no action. As District Fin. Sec. Pat Rafferty
reported, the General Executive Board is recommending that the union suspend the 2004 convention, on a trial basis, while redirecting the
freed-up resources to building the union. Genl. Pres. John Hovis pointed out that other districts have taken positions on both
sides of the issue.
"UE is not about how often to have a convention, per capita or where to locate the National Office," said Pres.
Hovis in his address to the council. The union is about the rules of democracy, in which the will of the majority prevails and the
minority is respected. It’s about people taking control of their destiny and fighting for what they believe in, he said.
When workers organize, their collective strength produces results at the bargaining table. "But there’s more to
rank-and-file unionism than winning grievances and negotiating better contracts," Pres. Hovis proposed. "Rank-and-file unionism
also fosters financial integrity. There’s a lot less opportunity for corruption when the members have their eyes on the union’s
finances," he said.
"Rank-and-file unionism works best," Hovis said, "when local leaders understand they have an obligation to
improve the day-to-day working conditions of the members they were elected to represent. It’s the obligation of the national union to
provide them with the education and the materials they need to carry out that obligation."
The national president expressed his appreciation that an overwhelming majority of members voted "to provide the
financial means to take the union into the future," and are "united in agreeing that UE’s style of democratic, rank-and-file
unionism is worth working to preserve and build."
A Regional Organizing Council (ROC) is up and functioning in the Erie area, reports indicated. Almost two dozen UE members
attended the first inaugural meeting on Nov. 8; a number of interesting organizing leads have been received in the weeks since.
Norm Yeargers, Local 613, reported on his local’s successful negotiations with the Western Pennsylvania School for
Blind Children, the first since the independent staff union affiliated with UE. Local 625 (and Local 626) members struck ABB Power for
three days to get an acceptable contract, said Gretchen Kelly. Local 697 is in a fight for union conditions at Flex-Y-Plan,
reported Sue Falk. The continuing fight for a first contract with TEMCO has been complicated by slow business conditions, said
Local 684 delegates Crystal Pratt and Roy Bolinger.
Other locals reported slow work and layoffs; however, several indicated recalls and an uptick in work. Hardest hit are the
employees of the Erie General Electric plant, where layoffs affect members of Locals 506 and 618.
The political situation has matched the economic outlook, but membership involvement can make a difference, said Political
Action Co-Chairs John Thompson, Local 690, and Donna Cramer, Local 506. "Fast track" trade promotion authority is
stalled in the Senate, giving working people an opportunity to halt this legislation, pointed out Thompson. He recommended a political
action conference in Harrisburg, the state capital. "They say there are no viable candidates, but we are the viable candidates,"
In filling vacancies to district office, delegates elected Tom Kakos and Tom Gharing to the executive board
and Karen Coleman as alternate trustee.
UE News - 3/02