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UE Wins 112-65
At JPE Finishing

By LORI LOVEJOY
Local 798 member

JAMESTOWN, Ohio

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 union’s motives and intentions. If the AFL-CIO union had already started dealing with JPE directly, without the request or consent of JPE’s employees, then how could this union be trusted?

REAL UNION NEEDED

JPE rally where UE locals offer their support ...
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 didn’t 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 suffered.

Health insurance costs us $35 a week for family coverage; there was no dental coverage.

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 union’s 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.

NICEY-NICE COMPANY

The company tried to convince us that they weren’t 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 company’s 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 can’t wait to be able to say these things!"

NASTY COMPANY

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 and unreasonable.

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, "I’m 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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Rank and File
Builds Union at JPE

When the staff representative of a major AFL-CIO union stood before JPE workers at a meeting in the plant break room and waved a contract signed by the company, the scenario seemed all wrong to Chuck Abling. JPE employees had never discussed contract proposals or voted on the contract — and had never taken a vote for union representation.

"I’ve never in my life worked some place where a company brought in a union," says Abling, who had been a UE member for 13 years at American Building, and had served as a Local 764 steward and trustee.

Abling’s questions to the AFL-CIO official set in motion a chain of events that led to a UE organizing campaign and a decisive 112-65 win for the union.

Dedicated to the idea that unions are built by workers themselves, UE rank and filers — past and present — were crucial to successful outcome.

Two graduates of this year’s Organizing Schools — LuAnn Robbins and Jan Tomich, members of UE Local 751 at GE Niles — spent a week visiting and speaking to a number of JPE workers on home visits.

District Seven Pres. Joyce Clayborne offered her encouragement and experience at a number of organizing meetings, did home visits and attended rallies. She and Local 767 members Sue Roderick, Charlene Minter-Fisher and Marcy Brim conducted a phone bank on their day off, calling 120 people to get a good turnout for the first mass meeting just days prior to the election. Local 767 member Connie Kingsolver also did home visits and phone calls to people she knew in the Jamestown area.

Although KMO workers are still struggling for their first contract, Local 794 Pres. Larry Jamason made home visits and phone calls that declared voting UE was the best thing they could do. Chief Steward Howard Leach and Treas. Dave Chambliss wrote articles on behalf of Local 764, encouraging workers to vote UE.

At a rally two days prior to the election, JPE workers received two poster-sized letters of support signed by members of Local 764 and 767. Making the presentation were Local 764 Pres. Robin Hall and Dave Chambliss and Sue Roderick, Diana Thomas and Marcy Brim of Local 767, who offered words of encouragement.

Members of Locals 714, 715, 764, 767, 770 and 777 also wrote letters of support, declaring that UE was a good union.

In addition to Chuck Abling, four other former American Building Co. workers are employed by JPE. The husband of organizing committee member Lori Lovejoy had also worked at ABC and confirmed that UE "is a good union to be with."

Field Organizers Jeremy Prose and Sam Smucker and Intl. Rep. Dennis Painter worked on this campaign.

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UE News - 11/98


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