It really was a banner Convention.
Delegates learned that UE posted a
fifth straight year of organizing gains, often with substantial rank-and-file support.
During Monday afternoon's traditional Organizing Report, the Convention greeted a diverse group of new
Citing their own experiences, delegates argued UE's longstanding
policy of aggressive struggle remains crucial to
collective bargaining, even as they learned that Chicago's Acme Die Casting workers
were on strike for a first contract, nearly 10 years after
they voted for UE.
Management negligence and indifference should mean jail time and heavy fines for bosses responsible for workplace deaths,
argued the rank-and-file leaders of the union.
Another crucial workplace issue: understanding,
recognizing and confronting racism was addressed on the floor, following a special
panel. And delegates called for special action emphasis on
education and organizing, even while UE continues to build
the Labor Party to gain a real voice for workers.
Welfare reform is nothing more than a
back-door attack on wages, said Wisconsin State Senate President Pro Tem Gwen
Moore. When push-came-to-shove, Wisconsin State Rep. G. Spencer Coggs
described how he took a stand for workers' right to organize.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin Gubernatorial Candidate Ed Garvey spoke on his
efforts to eject big money from the governor's mansion.
Pulling no punches, 'It's Class War!'
declared political commentator and humorist Jim Hightower. Delegates
heard union reformer Lewie Anderson argue the AFL-CIO Must Confront Union Corruption.
Finally, President Henry Nicholas of the National Union of Hospital and Healthcare workers
underscored the ugent need to
organize for the future.
As Conventions go, the 62nd UE Convention
here Sept. 21-25 had its share of drama.
The convention began with the conventional, theatrical kind of drama, as
the Women and Labor History Project presented a one-act play depicting
stirring events and personalities from labor history. Consistent with the convention theme
of "United We Stand, Divided We Beg," the plays Mother Jones called on
delegates to be hell-raisers, not humanitarians. Delegates took that advice, bringing a
touch of street drama to lunch-hour, downtown Milwaukee with rallies for workers
There was also real-life drama on the convention floor.
Delegates were electrified by the news that nearly 10 years after voting
for UE, Local 1116 members had struck Acme Die Casting
in Chicago to bring their long fight for a first contract to a conclusion.
Speaking during a panel discussion on racism, Shirley Harrison of Local
1135, in highly-charged comments, challenged delegates to examine and confront racism in the workplace.
Vainly fighting back tears, Nomesia Iria of Local 214 told
delegates that her plant was closed and may not reopen and blessed the day UE came
to organize Prince pasta. Housekeepers and grounds-keepers from
the University of North Carolina who are organizing as UE Local 150 in a
state which denies union rights to public employees received a rousing reception,
as did representatives of other newly-organized
OTHER KINDS OF DRAMA
And there were other kinds of drama, as well.
Delegates gave their assent to constitutional amendments thatif
ratified by the locals will reshape UE districts and General Executive Board and
restructure the salaries of officers of staff.
Consistent with the five-year plan, the convention recommended that District
11 (currently Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin) be expanded to include
Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska and gain a third voting representative on the General
The convention also approved a substantial, one-time salary increase for
the general officers and staff to bring their salaries, in conformity with the spirit of
the UE Constitution, closer into line with the pay received by UE members in General
Electric, and to help retain and hire staff. Several delegates took floor mikes to state
their support of the measure. There was no opposition.
UE, said Genl. Pres. John Hovis, "is an organization in
transition, a union struggling through difficult times for working people, trying to make
the difficult and sometimes controversial changes that must be made to take
UE members into the next century." In his address, the general president stressed the
ability of UE adapt and grow without sacrificing its core principles of rank-and-file
democracy and aggressive
The past year has been a busy, successful and gratifying year for UE,
Hovis reported. The five-year plan approved by delegates last year is "up and running
and moving steadily ahead," Hovis said. No dinosaur or relic of the past as critics
sometimes charge, UE is still "a work in progress."
Economic change makes UEs continued renewal and revitalization a
necessity, Hovis said. Contrasting present manufacturing trends with those of 20 years
ago, he pointed out that the engineers who once ruled the shop have been replaced by
"bean-counters." Record-setting profit levels and stock market prices are not
translating into good times for American workers. Instead, the UE president declared,
"the deadly duo of the corporate executive and Wall Street speculator" are
holding down workers wages.
"To show an even bigger gain in the next quarter, to retain or
attract investors, we are downsized, re-engineered, our jobs are combined or
eliminated," Hovis said. Increasing numbers of workers are forced to take temporary,
part-time or contract jobs.
Fighting todays ruthless managers requires worker education,
well-planned strategies, unity and community support, the UE leader said. "Its
not who makes the best case that prevails at the bargaining table its who has
the power and determination to force their will on the other side." Several delegates
cited this comment by Pres. Hovis during their own remarks later in the convention.
Hovis spoke approvingly of steps by the AFL-CIO to expand organizing, but
identified three areas of continuing concern: internal corruption, union mergers and
the federations "undying allegiance to the Democratic Party."
Commenting on the Clinton Administrations embrace of Republican
policies, Hovis drew applause when he advised the President to "take a leap"
when he finally crosses his bridge to the future. The Labor Party, Hovis said, is
"clearly a much better route than the Presidents toll bridge."
Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark reported to the
convention on the five-year plan; he identified cost savings already made and pledged to
continue to reduce expenses. He assured delegates that with its financial muscle, UE has
the hallmarks of a strong union the ability to put a boss whos out of line
back in line.
Delegates unanimously reelected the three national officers Genl.
Pres. Hovis, Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark, and Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley. They
also elected as national trustees Barry Rideout of Local 120, Mary Larsen
of Local 1111 and Brian McKim of Local 212; Pat Rafferty of Local
506 and Virginia Garrette of Local 767 were elected alternate trustees.
The convention concluded with delegates singing labors anthem,
"Solidarity Forever," led by Sam Plumeri, Local 1111, Marcy Brim, Local 747,
and Mindy Williams, Local 1193.
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DELEGATES ADOPT ORGANIZING PLAN
If its not broken dont fix it: UEs organizing record
over the past year is good enough to warrant little change in the 1997-98 organizing plan
before the convention, Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley told delegates.
"For the fifth consecutive year we have been able to organize a
thousand or more people," Kingsley reported. Although setbacks were encountered
earlier this year, UE is now in the midst of a new organizing surge, he said: "As of
today, more than 1,200 workers are now scheduled to vote on whether to join your union
before the end of 1997."
The unions officers recommended that the convention reaffirm the
unions "Factories-Plus" approach, combining organizing in UEs
traditional manufacturing base with public and service sector recruitment.
New in the 1997-98 plan, Kingsley said, is added emphasis on sister shops
and educational institutions. UE will also seek to continue the tri-national organizing
project in the Echlin chain and the new North Carolina organizing project, he said.
The diversity built into the organizing plan is reflected in the
unions newest members, Kingsley
pointed out: "They are bus drivers in Iowa and housekeepers in North Carolina. They
make paint brushes in New Hampshire and partitions in Pennsylvania. They are from the
public, private and service sectors in five different states around the United
"We faced the harshest and most inhospitable organizing climate since
the darkest days of UE," declared the union officer. "We faced firings in more
than half of all substantial private-sector campaigns we ran." These included the
three elections lost in a three-week period, each of them by 10 votes or less.
"Bosses are responding to the first hints of organizing more swiftly
and more ferociously than ever," Kingsley said. A Dayton factory worker who hosted a
meeting of his co-workers was fired the next day, he noted.
Firings are not the only employer response, the UE organizing director
commented. "Were seeing more captive audience meetings, days and sometimes only
hours after the first union leaflet or the first small meetings. But were also
seeing bosses hand out the bucks in two cases this year, dollar-an-hour raises as
soon as serious organizing activity began.
"Employers have heard of the new organizing offensive planned by
Americas labor movement and they are ready ready to threaten, harass and fire,
and even sometimes to show us the money in order to stop us in our tracks," Kingsley
Nearly 10 Years
After Organizing, First-Contract Strike at Acme Die
Delegates were electrified by the news that nearly
10 years after voting for UE in a representation election, workers at Acme Die Casting in
Chicago were on strike for a first contract. "Its been very long and
hard," said Mauricio Aguirre, a Local 1116 negotiating committee
member, who addressed the convention on the first day of the strike. He thanked delegates
for their support and their patience.
The presence of new hires gave the struggle new
hope, Aguirre said. "People began to understand that the company did nothing but lie,
harass, push around. When they saw their checks, they were ready to join us."
Aguirre acknowledged that this new phase would be
difficult; in his heart, Aguirre said, " I know it will be finally completed."
Delegates who were among those who drove to Chicago
in the early morning hours of Sept. 24 gave a report on the strikes first day.
The picket line was already in motion when the
caravan arrived, said Jim Cook, Local 623. Given the opportunity to address the
strikers, Cook said, "I told them that today they have begun the true war with the
boss and drawn a line in the sand, and that 10 years is way too long for a company not to
have to negotiate a contract." And Cook left them with a new battle cry.
Maria Vilella, Local 1090, brought words of
solidarity from California and the perspective of a local union that mounted a multi-union
campaign to obtain a first contract. She counseled "patience and continued
unity" as the way to win.
Aguirre was visibly shocked when a convention
speaker, Henry Nicholas, president of the National Union of Hospital and
Healthcare Workers, presented him with a check for $1,000. Chanting "Who are we?
UE!" delegates collected another $1,429. Ray Pompano, Local 243, Joe Chavez,
District 10, and Mary Larsen, Local 1111, were among those who stepped up to
floor mikes to pledge contributions.
Local 1116 members maintained picket lines for 13
days before decided to continue the struggle inside the shop.
A major accomplishment was the negotiation of 16 first contracts
this past year, the director of organization declared. "These new UE agreements cover
3,500 workers from Iowa to Vermont. Thats a greater number of workers to come under
first agreements in a single year in more than 20 years. In a busy collective bargaining
year for the union, one out of every four contracts successfully negotiated was a
first-time UE agreement, he pointed out.
The typical union, having won a representation election, only achieves a
first contract about half the time. UEs first contracts are achieved through
tenaciousness: "We win because dont give up," Kingsley said.
At Acme Die Casting in Chicago, the struggle for a first contract is
nearly 10 years old and still continues. Due to UEs tenaciousness, "more Acme
workers support UE today than ever before," Kingsley said. The previous Friday, Acme
workers shut down the aluminum foundry with a warning strike and set a strike deadline, he
"That type of commitment, that type of fighting spirit, that type of
tenaciousness, speaks volumes about your union because it once again sends out a message
to bosses everywhere that if you tangle with UE you better be prepared to fight to the
finish, because well grab onto your leg like a junkyard dog, and we wont let
go until a measure of justice is won," Kingsley declared.
The UE director of organization described organizing as "the place
where our battle with the bosses begins" and "the great counterpunch to the
growing economic inequality which grips our nation." In many respects, he said,
organizing is "the hardest thing we do."
Organizing takes place for reasons of self interest, righteousness and
power. "Its about power the power of the working class in this country,
our power to shape this country in our image, toward our interests and not just those of
the wealthy and the corporations."
The UE officer praised the more than 200 members from 63 different UE
locals who came off the job to assist the unions organizing efforts. "The heart
and soul and energy and drive of this unions members are the building blocks of this
union," Kingsley said. This kind of participation "is what it takes to build a
rank-and-file union in this day and age." He also praised the contributions of the UE
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Workers from five states, representing more than a
thousand co-workers in a wide variety of job classifications in both the private and
public sectors, received a rousing reception from delegates as they came to the podium to
tell their stories of organization.
Not all of the speakers had completed the typical organizing process that
culminates in a representation election. For Jesus Guererro and Vince Peyna
from Westwood Aluminum, a Milwaukee area foundry, their Oct. 3 election victory was a
little less than two weeks away. But the University of North Carolina employees escorted
to the podium by banner-waving District One leaders can expect no election state
law does not recognize their right to union representation and collective bargaining. (see
Denial of a Basic Right, They're Determined to Organize!
The housekeepers and groundskeepers employed by the
University of North Carolina are determined to build their union despite the states
denial of union rights to public employees.
In introducing the representatives of Local 150, the
North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, Field Org. Saladin Muhammed compared their
struggle for union rights to the civil rights movement that toppled the states
system of racial segregation. Just as African-Americans defied laws that restricted their
access to public facilities, we also dont intend to follow those laws that say
that workers dont have a right to collective bargaining, he said.
Local 150 members are not organizing for a contract;
their union wont live or die depending on the outcome of an election, Muhammed said.
Instead, workers are building a movement that can make political demands on state
government on behalf of UNC employees.
Barbara Prear, a Local 150 leader, described how
housekeepers began organizing an association in 1990 to demand dignity and a voice on the
job. The housekeepers, who are 80 percent black women, have always been
disrespected and work under a different set of rules, Prear said. Were
not turning back, she declared.
VICTORIES IN IOWA
A string of victories in Iowa and Nebraska during the past year brought a
series of speakers before the convention. As Intl. Rep. Greg Cross pointed out,
"we have organized eight new bargaining units that represent more than 600 workers in
both the public and private sectors."
Rick Simons, Local 811, who came to the 1996 convention to report
how he and his co-workers had organized into UE, made a return trip with a sequel to last
years story. When their employer took over a new operation but refused to expand the
bargaining unit, Simons signed up each of the new workers by 6 p.m. on the first day. The
vote was unanimous for UE in the subsequent election.
A number of the newly organized UE in Iowa are school support staff. Ellen
Rowlet, a key member of the UE organizing committee in the Storm Lake School District,
is now on the negotiating committee. "Two things I feel we need most from a union
like UE is a fair grievance procedure and for people to be recognized by seniority,"
From the Adel-DeSoto-Minburn School District, bus driver Gilbert Webb
described how the 80 teachers aides, custodians, bus drivers, food service workers
and secretaries organized and gained a contract. "We got more money. And they sit up
and they take notice of us now," Webb said.
Dave Lehman and Wendy Ganson represented nearly 200
co-workers employed by the Western Dubuque School District; they explained how the
district is the largest in Iowa, covering 560 square miles, with seven different
departments. For years management has played department against department, worker against
worker, but no more. "We went into contract negotiations as a unit, for the first
time in the history of our district," said Ganson.
John Ross received a charter on behalf of Local 888,
representing 100 industrial, commercial and construction electricians employed by Meisner
Electric in Newton, Iowa. An AFL-CIO union made promises to the Meisner electricians which
proved to be too good to be true. UE made no promises, Ross said, only an offer "to
help us achieve something that we had never had before, which was solidarity and a vastly
improved contract." An election victory was followed by extensive contract
improvements, including wage increases totaling 23 percent over three years. "We are
proud and happy to be members of UE," said Ross.
The decision of Flex-Y-Plan management to impose a 10 percent pay cut
spurred union organization at the Erie, Pa. manufacturer of office partitions and office
furniture, said Ken Dingus, Local 697. "It took us about eight years to get
that 10 percent," he said. With help from District Six locals, Flex-Y-Plan workers
withstood a tough anti-union campaign, won their election and are slowly making progress
"A lot of the problem with this company is that they consider us a
bunch of ignorant louts,"Dingus said. But the company is learning, he pointed out:
"Now theyre starting to respect us, acting like were actually people, for
When the new owners of American Brush in Claremont, N.H. announced drastic
changes in benefits, Audrey Johnson wasted no time in calling Field Org. Rachel
Clough. With the help of District Two locals, especially Local 258, American Brush
workers organized as Local 237. But as the two women explained to the convention,
the struggle for a first contract, still ongoing, as been far from easy. "Weve
got to make them know they cant be afraid to fight," Johnson told delegates.
"With Rachels help and the help of the locals around us, Im sure we will
win and get this contract."
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The unions collective bargaining program came before the convention
along with the resolutions "Aggressive Shop Floor Struggle" and "Union
Solidarity." Delegates from big locals and small, from the manufacturing and public
sectors, agreed that the principles underlying the three resolutions work.
The three resolutions go hand-in-hand, said Doug Whitcomb, Local 258:
"You cant do one without the other."
Earlier this year, his Windsor, Vt. local survived
a five-month shutdown and plant buyout. "We found a way to keep the company open
and preserve our jobs and preserve our contract," he said.
"Follow your UE principles," Whitcomb declared. "Follow
whats before you in these resolutions and you cant go wrong."
Delegates from two locals which had faced tough struggles to gain their
first contracts told the convention that bargaining went easier the second time around
but it was still a struggle.
"Im very happy to say that this time we have a second contract
without going to the Labor Board and without a 17-month strike," Dorothy Johnson,
Local 299 announced to applause. The UE bargaining position at Circuit-Wise in North
Haven, Conn. was bolstered by an enlarged and "a very aggressive shop struggle,"
"Its really important that people mobilize their members in the
shop so that you can get a fair and decent contract," Johnson declared. She noted
that the company was concerned about the possibility of another strike and annoyed by
Speaking on behalf of the resolution "Union Solidarity," Johnson
emphasized that just because a contract is won, the struggle is not over. "We need to
stick behind other unions because their fight is our fight."
Speaking through a translator, Maria Villela, Local 1090 credited
the solidarity of other unions in the Echlin chain and shop-floor activity for an improved
contract for workers at Friction in Irvine, Calif.
A contract support committee, with about 30 members out of the 104 in the
shop, was particularly important, Villela said. The committee gathered the signatures of
every worker on a petition demanding a decent contract, and presented the petition to
management during negotiations. The result? "We got about twice as much a wage
increase as we did in the first contract."
David Kitchen, Local 506 traced the development of worker-to-worker
rallies within the General Electric chain, beginning with the links established between
his local in Erie, Pa. and IUE Local 201 in Lynn, Mass. some 15 years ago, and culminating
in the multi-union rally hosted by Local 506 in June. The key to that rallys success
was the commitment of rank-and-file volunteers to making it work, he said. "We were
proud of that membership for being able to pull off the biggest rally that Erie has seen
The support of Locals 506 and 618 made a difference in his locals
negotiations, said Rich Drylie, Local 683. His company does business with General
Electric, so when Betsy Potter, Local 618, the president of the GE salaried
workers union, participated in negotiations, the boss took notice, Drylie said.
For workers employed by St. Marys Nursing Home in Milwaukee, their
third contract turned out to be their best, reported Mindy Williams, Local 1193.
Confronted with the problem of a top scale that no one could reach, Local 1193 came up
with a plan to reward long service, low-pay workers.
"Its an ongoing struggle," Williams said. After signing
the contract, Williams said she continued preaching to the membership that its not
over: "The bosses are always going to come with some underhanded scheme or
"We dont always win but we always fight," said Barb
Adams, Local 893. In negotiations with the State of Iowa, Local 893 worked closely
with a larger state employees union. That cooperation paid off; "but when push
came to shove, they folded, they settled a real low-ball contract." UE held out, and
won a better deal, Adams said.
A 'GRADE IN' MAKES THE POINT
Contract struggles can take various forms. When UE-organized graduate
employees at the University of Iowa decided to demonstrate to management the kind of work
they do, they staged a "grade-in," reported Leslie Taylor, Local 896.
At the Farnam plant in Necedah, Wis., management proposed that seniority
be replaced with "skill and ability" and insisted that this is what
workers wanted, Anna Fisher, Local 1107 related. So first-shift workers donned
signs reading "We Want Seniority Rights." In turn, so did second-shift workers.
The company ordered the second-shifters to remove their signs or go home. Seventy-five
went home, Fisher reported to delegates cheers. "Skill and ability is now off
the negotiations table and seniority does rule," she said to applause.
Given managements proposals, commented Bill Lynch, Local 262,
it seems as if his bosses have read a few books lately. On the table are cellular
manufacturing and elimination of the incentive system. "For those of you who think it
cant happen in your shop, keep an eye open because anything is possible," Lynch
In California, Gov. Pete Wilson has signed legislation that will eliminate
time and one-half after eight hours in non-union shops. Joe Chavez, District 10,
said that in the General Cable plant, a fight is shaping up around defense of the
Speaking to the "Union Solidarity" resolution, Errol
Maitland, Local 404
called for assistance. The Pacifica Foundation prides itself on giving voice to voiceless,
he said; Pacifica radio covers workers struggles like the UPS and Yale strikes. But
when dealing with its own employees, Pacifica management is anti-union and
anti-workers rights, Maitland said.
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Jail Time, Heavy Fines
THE TOLL OF NEGLIGENCE AND INDIFFERENCE
Needed for Bosses Responsible
For Workplace Deaths
When it comes to health and safety, union protection and
management indifference can literally be matters of life and death, said delegates
speaking on the resolution "For a Safe and Healthy Workplace."
Last November, Local 506 member David Nowosielski was fatally
injured on the job in the Erie, Pa. plant of the General Electric Co. when the jitney he
was operating overturned. The jitney did not have a seat belt.
David Adams, Local 506, pointed out that a 1990 study identified
those areas in the plant lacking seatbelts, but the company did not require managers to
obtain seatbelts. Nowosielski, a single parent, was on piecework in an area in which the
chief steward had been arguing for new hires to relieve the pressure faced by
Thats why, Adams said, he supported the resolutions call for
criminal prosecution and heavy fines for bosses who create or tolerate conditions that
lead to severe injury or death on the job.
Kim Peniska, Local 1187, agreed. "In most cases in South
Dakota, somebody gets killed on the job they charge them $1,500. And the company says,
Ill pay the fine. Its no big deal. I think the bosses should be
accountable, put a stiffer fine on them or put them in prison."
Tom Dininny, Local 329, told fellow delegates that at Kennedy Valve
in Elmira, N.Y., "we know what death and toxic poisoning is in our plant." Two
workers have been killed on the job in the last 14 years, the most recent two years ago.
His local has had experience with fighting the boss on lead poisoning and other toxics.
"To me this is one of the most important resolutions in front of
you," said Dininny. "You have to fight for the safety of everyone in your plant
because you never know what could happen to you."
Employer irresponsibility came under condemnation from Nomesia Iria,
Local 214. Managements failure to repair a defective kill switch cost a diligent
co-worker the use of his right hand, she said. In another incident this year, the
employers responded to an accident by issuing a warning to the injured employee, not
by fixing the machine. Following union protests, the warning slip was removed, she said.
Workers at GEs Fort Edward, N.Y. plant have also been outraged by
the company issuing a warning to a co-worker whose hand was caught in a machine, reported Web
Chapman, Local 332. His local opposes what union members regard as an inadequate
safety inspection program. "We believe in safety. The companys responsible for
safety by our contract. They should have systematic safety inspections by qualified
people," Chapman said.
Safety inspections at Circuit-Wise in North Haven, Conn. demonstrate the
differences between union and management points of view, commented Tina Jendrzewski,
Local 299, a member of the plant health and safety committee. "When we go on our
shop tours we look for hazardous situations wet floors, chemical spills, no guards
on machines, outlets without covers and hanging wires." The company looks for
employees without safety glasses or gloves and tries to write them up, Jendrzewski
Management also favors games and gimmicks like "safety bingo"
condemned by the resolution, Jendrzewski pointed out. "Our committee keeps saying,
put your money into improving a safe and healthy workplace and to hell with the
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TOOLS BOSSES USE TO DIVIDE
Education in the workplace and the home is crucial to the struggle against
racism, said delegates during the discussion of the resolutions "Build Working-Class
Unity" and "Fight the Attacks on Immigrants."
"We face many obstacles in our lives, from negotiating contracts to
settling grievances to bringing back fired workers," observed Genl. Sec.-Treas.
Bob Clark. "But sometimes the most difficult one, especially the way the boss
tends to divide us on certain issues, comes around the question of race."
In addition to delegates comments, a panel discussion explored
racism on the shop floor, the economic basis of racism, and the transmission of racist
thinking in contemporary politics. The three panelists stressed that racism must be
recognized, understood and confronted.
The only way we can accomplish the unions goals is to recognize that
racism exists in the union, on the job, in everyday life, said panelist Shirley
Harrison, Local 1135. With those words, the local president confronted the convention
with the hard truth that while management is often racist and sexist, co-workers can also
be part of the problem.
At the Tulip Corp. in Milwaukee, the highest-paying jobs in the shop
in the tool room and maintenance department have been held by whites only,
Harrison said. Management insisted there were no qualified black candidates until
union prodding persuaded the company to seriously consider applicants. Three people of
color were hired, only to be forced out as a result of harassment by co-workers, Harrison
"As the president of the local, what could I tell these members about
our union not discriminating on the basis of race?" she asked. Delegates responded to
Harrisons emotionally-charged comments with a standing ovation that expressed their
support and respect for her remarks.
EDUCATION IS KEY
"Not only do we have to educate management on their use of racism to
divide and conquer us, we also have to educate our members whenever and wherever we see it
being used," Harrison declared. "Education is the key the cause of racism
is that were not being educated."
While the labor movement has an uneven history in its response to racism,
it is nevertheless the only place "where it is possible for us to build our
solidarity as working people," commented Adolph Reed, political scientist and
Labor Party leader. "The only hope for us, for any of us, is to recognize that on all
things that really matter, we as working people are the same."
The most powerful weapon against racism, he suggested, is to treat as a
practical reality the old labor motto, "An injury to one is an injury to all."
Reed, a University of Illinois professor, demolished the concept of
"race," demonstrating that it has no scientific validity. Racial categories were
constructed according to the needs of economic and political systems.
As the nation developed, "whiteness" became a basis for
privilege, he explained. But immigration confused the notion of what constituted
whiteness. Reed noted that in 1925, a Pittsburgh sheet metal manufacturer maintained a
list of 38 different racial populations and the work they weresuited for because of their
"race." Race is a "mechanism for assigning people to status categories in a
social hierarchy," Reed said.
The nature of racism gives white people an opportunity as well as a
responsibility to discuss racism with other whites, suggested Leonard Zeskind,
the third panelist.
An expert on neo-Nazi and racist groups, Zeskind sketched the differences
among far-right groups and traced the transmission of racist thinking from extremists
through Pat Buchanan into mainstream politics. In particular, Zeskind examined the career
of David Duke.
After years of organizing for the Nazis, Duke decided in the mid-Seventies
that his message could be better conveyed through the Ku Klux Klan. "He didnt
change his beliefs, he changed his costume," Zeskind said. In the 1980s, Duke changed
his white sheet for a three-piece suit and injected himself into the political mainstream.
His core beliefs remained unchanged even as Duke won election to the Louisiana House of
Representatives as a Republican.
Duke failed in bids for Louisiana governor and U.S. Senator due largely to
the opposition of black voters; Zeskind pointed out that Duke received more than 55
percent of the white vote in both the senatorial and gubernatorial races. The speaker
stressed that Louisianas black voters "couldnt have defeated David Duke
themselves. They needed a significant number of white people to side with them."
Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan serves as a link between the
white nationalists and the Republican mainstream, Zeskind suggested; as a Washington
insider, Buchanan translates "Dukes white nationalist rhetoric into the
political culture of the Gingrich/Gramm crowd."
Racists are no so strong that they are invincible, Zeskind stressed.
Labors role is crucial. "There are fights that occur right on your shop
floor," he said, where union members can have effective ways of dealing with racism.
"Its not at all a situation in which were powerless."
Delegates who went to floor microphones stressed the importance of
Ed Havaich, Local 751, expressed his pride in UEs stand on
the issue, and said that in his family, "humor" at the expense of women and
people of color is not acceptable. Anna Fisher, Local 1107, affirmed the goal of a
color-blind view of humanity. Vinson Walker, Local 1112, added,"You should
educate your kids, teach them they can get along with all races."
Lynda Leech, Local 618, commended Shirley Harrison and added:
"If we dont start educating each other, and if we dont start standing for
each other, than we have no right to stand here at all." Ernie Lewis, Local 151,
also agreed with Sister Harrison. "Its not always the bosses," he said.
Within the union there are "divisions on race, members who dont understand what
race is all about."
Butch Pridgen, District One, said that in the context of the global
economy, "If we do not eradicate racism in our homes, on our jobs, in our country,
and take that same message all over the world, then were not going to catch up to
the bosses." "Unless we come together and unite and these words are
coming from my ten-year-old daughter, who educated me to this fact we are not going
to survive," said Errol Maitland, Local 404. Genl. Pres. John Hovis
stressed the importance of taking the discussion back to the shop floor.
David Quintana, Local 777, raised the issue of human rights
violations in the case of Puerto Ricans jailed for advocacy of independence for their
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Strong Stand Against
THE FIGHT FOR WOMEN'S RIGHTS
When a union member is accused of sexual harassment, UE stewards should
not let their duty to represent their co-worker compromise the unions strong stand
on this issue, said two chief stewards speaking during the discussion of the resolution
"Fight for Womens Rights."
Much of that discussion centered on the resolutions call to
"combat this behavior wherever it is found," to educate members "on the
nature, forms and consequences of sexual harassment," and to attempt to resolve
problems without involving management.
When Borden management disciplined a union member for sexual harassment
which involved a physical assault in the Prince pasta plant, Nomesia
Iria, Local 214, had two reactions. As a chief steward, "I want this man back to
work, because everybody needs a job. But as a woman, I want him dead!" She was
appalled that the offender received only two weeks suspension; "to me and my
fellow workers, that sends a message thats it okay to harass, its okay to
Iria firmly told the plant manager that as chief steward she will not
tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace.
Ed Havaich, Local 751, told the convention that as chief steward in
General Electrics Mahoning glass plant, he has been in the difficult position of
defending a co-worker charged with sexual harassment. The worker, Havaich said, had no
idea that "his continuous touching, his innuendos and his gross and out-of-line
jokes" were regarded as offensive and hostile by female co-workers. The chief
stewards advice: "Dont put your hands on a female. Keep your hands to
Havaich added, "There are many males in our shops that just
dont get it. We need to re-educate our male populace that this is no longer
acceptable behavior and that they are on notice."
"You wouldnt like it if your spouse was talked to in that way
in her workplace," said Robert Morris, Local 1187. Recommending membership
education on sexual harassment, the delegate said, "it causes conflict between your
membership and its hard to resolve."
Butch Pridgen, Local 120, agreed "it is very important that we
raise the educational level within our ranks so that we can adequately deal with these
kinds of problems, because it creates a problem for us all. Any kind of discrimination,
sexual or racial in nature, only serves the purpose to divide us."
"Women of every color have to endure more than just touching, or
slurs or remarks or thoughts," said Anna Fisher, Local 1107. Touching, she
added, "should never have been acceptable behavior. Never."
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Delegates endorsed proposals calling for greater membership responsibility
for organizing and expansion of the unions educational program, including a new
emphasis on young workers.
The convention adopted the recommendation of the Policy Action
Committee that each district encourage members to attend the upcoming UE Organizing
School and initiate organizing campaigns in their areas.
In addition, each local will be asked to commit to at least one
educational workshop (with assistance from the national union), distribute copies of Labors Untold Story and Them
and Us to libraries and schools and renew efforts to ensure that all members are
receiving the UE NEWS.
The National union will circulate copies of the UE history video Leading the Fight to all locals, expand and advertise the
UE web page, and assist districts and locals in educating the membership on the importance
of the Workplace Democracy Act.
Delegates gave unanimous approval to these proposals and to the report of
the Publicity and Education Committee, entitled "Education: Key to Trade Union
This resolution calls on UE locals "to organize youth committees,
consisting of young workers aged 16 to 25 already in UE shops both to encourage the
participation of young workers in the union and to focus the attention of the union on the
problems of young workers."
In addition, the Policy Action plan asks each district to identify one UE
member 25 years of age or less for participation in the UE National Leadership Institute,
which will take place Dec. 5-7.
Speaking in support of these proposals, Mindy Williams, Local 1193,
said her local has already created a youth committee. "If we want this union to grow,
we need to involve our young people." So-called welfare reform has forced a number of
young women into her workplace who have had no work experience or union background, she
Barry Rideout, Local 120, agreed. Many of the younger workers in
the workforce do not have an understanding or appreciation of the unions role or the
importance of fighting collectively for their rights. "So thats a special
challenge for me and the leaders of my local."
"If were going to survive and grow as a union, we have to
continue to strive to educate our members," declared Betsy Potter, Local 618.
As more seasoned local, Local 618 has "adopted" newer locals and assisted them
with membership education, she said.
UE needs to project a positive image to the community of what unions do,
said Patrick Callahan, Local 506.
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UE'S INDEPENDENT POLITICAL ACTION
The discussion around the resolutions "Independent Political
Action" and "Build the Labor Party" included delegates comments,
observations by a national officer, a special report from two locals leading the way in
building the Labor Party and an international panel moderated by a former national
"As we started out this path of creating an alternative party for
workers, everyone knew that it would be no easy task," Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark
told the convention. "But at the same time, we also knew that we needed a way for our
people to express themselves politically."
Clark said he is proud of UEs contributions to the year-old party:
most UE districts and a number of locals have endorsed and paid their affiliation fee and
more than 400 UE members have joined.
"Its important to build this party, because if we dont,
our jobs are going to be on the line," said Duane Yaindl, Local 111, whose
local has taken the lead in building the 90-member strong Lehigh Valley Chapter of the
Labor Party in eastern Pennsylvania.
"Theres no other party where you can actually own a piece of
it," Yaindl said. "In the Labor Party you can. All it take, is to fill out an
application and put down $20." Considering the number of working hours in a year, the
cost is less than a penny an hour. "A penny an hour can save your job; a penny an
hour can keep good wages and working conditions."
Brian McKim, Local 212, said that Robert Rombeiro of his
local has a simple but highly effective system for recruiting co-workers into the Labor
Party: He asks them to join. "What he does is, he goes around the shop floor,
individual to individual," McKim explained. If an individual doesnt have the
$20 membership fee, Brother Rombeiro will take a smaller amount and collect until he has
the full $20, then the name and money are sent to the Labor Party national office.
Clark and Ed Bruno reminded delegates that the Labor Partys
founding convention postponed a decision on electoral strategy. A committee is currently
studying the partys options, and will issue a report prior to the 1998 convention,
THE EXPERIENCE OF CANADA AND BRAZIL
Speakers from Brazil and Canada were asked to discuss their parties
In the United States for the first time, Paolo Cesar Funghi Alberto
came to share with UE convention delegates the experiences of Brazils Workers
Party. Funghi is a leader of both the metalworkers union and labor federation in the
state of Minas Gerais, where he serves on the executive of the Workers Party.
A "teenager," having just reached 17 years of age, the
Workers Party came into existence while Brazil was still under the heel of a
military dictatorship, Funghi said. Today the party boasts 50 representatives in the
National Assembly, five senators, 89 state legislators, 115 mayors and more than a
thousand city councillors.
A great strength of the party is its involvement in struggles as an ally
of trade unions and social movements. "Every fight around the country is reflected in
the Workers Party," Funghi said. Alliances and involvement of this kind is a
fundamental principle, he said; another is permanent political education.
Elected officials are reminded of where they came from by a requirement
that they contribute a percentage of their salary ranging from 1 to 30 percent
to the party. Candidates sign a kind of contract of commitment to the principles of
the party. But most important to keeping officials accountable to the party is a permanent
activism of the rank and file, Funghi said.
Elaine Bernard, currently director of the Harvard University Trade
Union Program and formerly a leader of the New Democratic Party in British Columbia, gave
a brief account of that partys history, stressing its roots in the Canadian labor
Before the New Democratic Party, a farm-labor socialist party called the
Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) scored legislative successes. In 1958 the
Canadian Labor Congress decided to hold discussions with the CCF on the launch of a labor
party. Grassroots discussions went on for three years involving trade unionists from a
number of unions. The result of these talks, Bernard said, was the founding of the New
Democratic Party in 1961.
Today the New Democratic Party is an "ongoing progressive coalition,
a disciplined organization of working people seeking to contest power, not simply
influence other people who are in power," Bernard said.
Questions came from Ron Flowers, Local 506, Sybil Wong, Local 404,
Donna Cramer, Local 506, Butch Pridgen, District One, Carl Rosen, District 11; the
questions concerned the NDPs electoral success, how quickly the NDP fielded
candidates, maintaining commitment to the party, the disadvantages of a third-party effort
on the national level, what level is the best for fielding candidates.
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Welfare Reform Is
Only A 'Back-Door'
Attack on Wages
STATE SENATOR GWEN MOORE
In a strong labor state like Wisconsin, anti-union legislation like
so-called "right to work" would never come out of committee, never mind pass the
full legislature, said State Senate President Pro Tem Gwen Moore. But welfare
"reform" legislation, passed both houses overwhelmingly and will be just
as an effective tool in reducing workers wages.
Moore labeled welfare reform a "back door approach" to right to
work. The Milwaukee Democrat cited Federal Reserve economists who predict that the
availability of low-wage workers as a result of welfare reform will force wages down by 20
Just hours before speaking to the UE convention, Moore had led an
unsuccessful fight in the State Senate to require payment of the minimum wage to former
welfare recipients in community service jobs. "Workers in low-wage jobs should not be
forced to compete against ex-welfare recipients receiving less than the minimum
wage," she said.
Wisconsin "leads" the nation in welfare reform, but the
legislator made it clear that under the circumstances, this is not a point of pride.
Wisconsin is the first state to end Aid to Families with Dependent Children completely.
"There is no check."
CHILDREN DEPENDENT ON
AN UNCERTAIN LABOR MARKET
What this means, she said, "is that three quarters of the people who
are on welfare, who are children, are totally and completely dependent upon an uncertain
labor market for their survival."
The budget now before the state legislature will eliminate medical
assistance for poor children; parents will be required to pay premiums starting at 143
percent of the poverty level. If their parents do not pay children from poor children will
not have medical assistance. "This is what we are calling progress,"
Wisconsin is leading the nation in welfare reform as measured by the
reduction in case loads; the state has reduced case loads by 50-60 percent over the last
decade. But this does not necessarily mean that welfare recipients have found good jobs,
Moore pointed out. Instead changed rules and an unfair review procedure have forced women
off the rolls. In the process women have been forced to move, become homeless and lost
custody of their children.
"A woman who finds herself homeless and in a shelter is regarded as a
success story under our welfare program because she is not on welfare
The senator acknowledged that many poor white children will suffer as a
result of welfare reform, but stressed that it is a "racist initiative" which
will strike children and women of color the hardest. Moore called attention to the
alarming disparity of jobs and resources between the suburbs and inner-city Milwaukee,
where much of Wisconsins African-American population is located.
Those women being forced off welfare must be allowed to unionize to gain a
decent standard of living, Moore said. "Weve got to allow them to unionize, to
receive the basic benefit package so that we as organized labor can survive."
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STATE REPRESENTATIVE G. SPENCER COGGS
As a former "angry young man" catapulted into political office
by years of union militancy, State Rep. G. Spencer Coggs faced a defining moment of
conscience as UE sought bargaining rights and a first contract at Steeltech, a Milwaukee
fabrication plant. Rep. Coggs is currently serving his eighth term in the Wisconsin
legislature, where he represents Milwaukees north side.
Holding public office for several years means having "a chance to
hobnob with the big boys," Rep. Coggs said. Among the bigwigs Coggs met was the chief
executive officer of Steeltech; he donated money to the legislators campaigns and
encouraged others to do likewise.
And then Steeltech workers began organizing under the UE banner and
bosses responded with a heavy hand. Company conduct was so bad that the NLRB rejected the
results of the election, which the union narrowly lost, and scheduled a new poll. UE asked
Coggs for his support.
"And I thought for a minute," Rep. Coggs told UE delegates.
"Here I have this very powerful and influential friend who doesnt want the
union, and all these workers who do want a union started.
"Now the choice between a friendship and full rights for workers
aint even a question," Coggs said to a roar of applause. "Its always
got to be full rights for workers and their families."
Coggs, who became a strong supporter of Steeltech workers, recognized the
delegation from Local 1127 (the Steeltech union) present in the hall.
Long before he ever had thoughts of public office, Coggs said, he was a
city worker who became active in his union. Eventually he served as chief steward and
first vice president of his local.
"Unions are for everybody," the legislator said. "When I
got elected I never forgot the union."
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GUBERNATORIAL HOPEFUL ED GARVEY
Ed Garvey, former executive director of the NFL Players Association
and a labor consultant, told delegates that he is a candidate for governor of Wisconsin
"to take on those powers there now that are telling us weve got a lot of poor
people down here who are causing the problem."
Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson says Wisconsin has eliminated poverty, but
thats not true, Garvey objected. "We may have forced some people off the rolls
but we havent done anything to help those young children who are now at risk."
Noting that Gov. Thompson has been in state government since 1967, Garvey
said he hopes to reintroduce Thompson to the private sector and "give him a chance to
work at the minimum wage to see how he likes it, without health care and the advantages he
has with office."
He ridiculed the governors claim that he couldnt remember
having taken a $14,000 vacation trip to Australia paid for by the Phillip Morris tobacco
company but later called Phillip Morris for advice on whether or not Wisconsin
should bring a lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
"Im running for governor so we can once again say to the people
of Wisconsin, this is your state government, not the government of the rich and
powerful," Garvey declared.
"Were going out there to tell people were going to save
the environment and were going to work with the UE and those who care about social
and economic justice."
At the inauguration in January 1999, "all of you are going to be
there," in the governors mansion, and the lobbyists will be outside,
"scratching their heads, saying, how the hell did they get in there?
Well, they got in there because we decided people power is more important than the cash
constituents who have been running state government too long," Garvey said to
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'COMMON TATER' JIM HIGHTOWER
"Were in the middle of a class war," declared political
commentator and humorist Jim Hightower. "Lets call it what it is."
Hightower, whose "Chat and Chew" talk show is heard nationwide
on the United Broadcast Network, complained that he is accused by establishment pundits of
trying to "foment class war" whenever he protests the decline in workers
"Too late for that. Theres already a class war going on
been going on for 20 or 30 years."
As an example of class warfare the talk show host and author offered the
balanced budget amendment, which balances the budget on the backs of working people. He
said the budget deal cuts job training, education, Medicare and Medicaid but not corporate
welfare, and increases tax loopholes for the privileged and expands the already bloated
Another example, he said, is "Washington cynically dumping a million
welfare recipients into the street," without creating jobs, knowing that this will
knock down the wages of those already employed.
'BEEN GOIN' ON FOR 20 OR 30 YEARS!'
"You want class war? How about the fact that tens of thousands of
working people are fired every year for the crime of trying to organize a union?"
Thanks to unions like UE, were beginning to fight back, Hightower
Elected to public office in Texas five times as a Democrat, Hightower says
that nowadays he doesnt recognize his party. What he finds in Washington, D.C. is a
party thats "Republican lite."
Todays Democratic Party shares the blame for NAFTA and GATT and
promotes NAFTA 2, which Hightower says will force workers to compete against "15
cents-an-hour labor in Indonesia, nickel-an-hour labor in Vietnam, slave labor and child
labor in China."
Hightower encouraged the UE local leaders to organize around the
nations basic values. "What were fighting for, all across this country,
is what America stands for," he said "Were fighting for the founding
values of this country." He identified as basic American values "economic
fairness, social justice, opportunity for all people."
Unfortunately, Hightower said, neither major political party is "even
talking about these values, much less trying to implement them."
The author encouraged delegates to take this message to the people, to
forge coalitions, go on the radio, even create their own radio shows. "Trust
yourself. Trust what you believe in. Trust what you want for your family, because
thats what everyone wants for their family."
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UNION REFORMER LEWIE ANDERSON
positive change is underway in the AFL-CIO, the labor movement faces continued decline
unless the new leadership tackles the problems of corruption and lack of internal
democracy argued union reformer Lewie Anderson in his remarks.
Anderson used the example of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union
(UFCW), the AFL-CIOs largest affiliate, to demonstrate the vital link between union
democracy and clean and effective unionism. A former UFCW with decades of experience in
the packinghouse industry, Anderson was a founding member of
Research-Education-Advocacy-People (REAP), an organization working for reform within the
The former packinghouse worker detailed for delegates numerous cases of
high-level corruption within the UFCW, including illegal conduct, unethical practices, and
grossly high salaries. he contrasted the six-figure salaries of UFCW officials with the
low wages of the part time workers who comprise 70% of the union's retail industry
On the local level, numerous officers follow the bad example of the top
officialdom. "And we have far too many cases of embezzlement, election fraud, rape,
discrimination and political firings taking place on the local level," Anderson
Corruption is possible because the UFCW constitution concentrates power in
the hands of the president; this top-down structure is mirrored on the local level.
Corrupt practices and the lack of democracy impact on bargaining, Anderson
said. A study by REAP on retail industry bargaining from 1984-1994 found the average UFCW
wage increase was just 8 percent, compared to 42.2 percent for all unions, and an increase
in inflation of 45.9 percent.
Going into the 1979 merger which created the UFCW, packinghouse workers
were among the highest paid industrial workers in the U.S. Today they are among the lowest
"UFCW may be among the worst in the AFL-CIO, but the fact of the
matter is there are far too many unions today that follow this pattern and concentrate
power into the hands of a few," Anderson declared. "And as long as we have
unions in the AFL-CIO doing these things, were going to continue to have the working
class in this country virtually being sold out, and the corporate exploiters using those
inside our ranks to drive wages and benefits down."
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HENRY NICHOLAS, PRESIDENT
NATIONAL UNION OF HOSPITAL
AND HEALTHCARE WORKERS
The president, Henry Nicholas, of the
National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Workers, proposed that "as trade
unionists we must go beyond our individual organizational concerns and play a leadership
role in redirecting and reshaping the future of Americas workers." Unions no
longer have the luxury of ducking issues, avoiding responsibility or worshiping "at
the altar of the status quo."
Labor and the left would have denounced President Bush for
signing the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 when remained silent because President Clinton was
"our guy," Nicholas said. The union leader described the legislation as "an
official government disconnect from poor people in this country" and a "frontal
attack against organized labor."
Clinton, he said, "was our guy when he signed NAFTA. He
was our guy when he signed GATT. And he will be our guy, if we let
him get away with it, when he signs the fast-track legislation. So we must change our
political agenda," Nicholas said. "The only way to change the political agenda
is to organize so that we can elect labor representatives that will speak for the working
people in this country."
Wall Street is prospering, schools are crumbling; vouchers threaten to
destroy public schools; and 10 million more Americans have lost insurance. "What side
are we on?" Nicholas asked. "We are for a new America, with schooling, health
care and jobs for everyone."
The labor leader stressed that union members must be involved in "the
debate about tomorrow." He told delegates: "The time has come for us to not only
talk union, but to walk union. And when our brothers and sisters are in battle, we must
see that as our battle. Every strike must be my strike, your strike. UPS gave the working
people of this country something to celebrate, but we cant let it end there."
To cheers and applause, Nicholas declared, "We must create UPS victories over and
over and over again."
The pioneering black trade unionist A. Philip Randolph said that "at
the banquet table of justice, there are no reserved seats;" Nicholas implored
delegates to "organize, organize and reserve our own seats at the table!"