By LORI LOVEJOY
Local 798 member
Workers at JPE Finishing Inc. chose UE as their collective bargaining
agent on Oct. 23, 1998. The vote was a convincing 112 to 65.
When JPE brought in a representative of a major AFL-CIO union with a
signed contract with the company, Chuck Abling questioned this unions motives
and intentions. If the AFL-CIO union had already started dealing with JPE directly,
without the request or consent of JPEs employees, then how could this union be
REAL UNION NEEDED
|Messages of support: Local 764
President Robin Hall (above) offers encouragement to JPE workers at a plant-gate rally;
Marcy Brim of Local 767 reads a statement of support at the same rally. JPE workers voted
112-65 to be represented by UE.
We needed a union. Conditions at the plant have not been good.
Favoritism was rampant, seniority meant nothing unless convenient for management. Some of
the floor supervisors treated us like dogs; the supervisors who did treat us with respect
didnt receive any from upper management.
Wages were very low, with small, infrequent raises. The only way to make
enough money to live on was by working overtime. The company took advantage of this; when
convenient for the company, overtime became mandatory. We sometimes worked seven days a
week for three or four months at a time. Our paychecks looked good but our families
Health insurance costs us $35 a week for family coverage; there was no
Chuck Abling introduced a small group of employees, myself
included, to (UE Intl. Rep.) Dennis Painter. We questioned Dennis about the
legalities of the AFL-CIO agreement, the way the UE was run, and what should happen next.
Dennis answered the questions honestly and explained the different avenues that might be
followed, without telling us what to do. The AFL-CIO union had already "shacked
up" with our employer, but the UE listened to us and followed our decisions. We liked
that. We decided to pursue the UE.
We went back into the shop the next day excited and ready to tackle JPE.
We got more people involved, pumped-up and excited.
(Paul Brunk, an 18-year-old second-shift worker, initiated a union
organizing drive which was undercut when a representative from the same union signed the
backdoor deal with the company. Introduced to UE, Brunk was impressed by the unions
democratic structure and agreed to circulate cards on his shift garnering an
80-percent sign-up in three days.)
Workers largely ignored the AFL-CIO union. When it became clear the
AFL-CIO union lacked worker support, the company put out a notice that the contract with
the union was terminated.
Our card drive lasted all of four days; we ended up with more than 80
percent. JPE refused the card check and wanted an election.
The company tried to convince us that they werent so bad. We got
raises, lower health insurance costs, dental insurance and a credit union. The big bosses
who had treated us like dirt beneath their feet were suddenly fired. A new plant manager
treated us with more respect. Seniority became a factor in filling vacant positions. Some
supervisors became suspiciously friendly. But when we continued to be interested in UE,
the company began publishing anti-union literature.
The nice treatment and the attacks on the union made us mad and that much
more determined to win this fight. We spent much of our time talking to people answering
questions and fighting the companys false propaganda with facts. We had important
help from UE members who helped us with home visits. They told us what it is like to
belong to a union that gives you a voice on the job. I thought, "I cant wait to
be able to say these things!"
Finally, the company got downright dirty. They closed one of our two
plants. We lost about 50 employees, most of them union supporters. We were quietly told by
some of the supervisors that the remaining plant would close, too, if the union came in.
JPE sais that "militant UE" would make "unreasonable demands." What
JPE did not say was that we, the employees, were the UE and we knew what was reasonable
All of our work paid off when votes were counted on Oct. 23. A hush spread
across the room, then shouts of joy. We were hugging each other, some of us crying. At the
District Seven Council meeting that weekend, Pete Benning spoke for all of us when he
declared, with tears in his eyes, "Im proud to be a part of this union!"
Looking back, employee Glenda Brown states it plainly: "It was
hard. But it was worth it." The campaign strained life-long friendships and tested
some marriages. Things will never be the same in the shop which is what we wanted
in the first place.
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