By Ron Lare (originally in Labor Notes)
“No!” “No!” “No!”
It started with a simple question, “Can you hear me?” United Auto Workers International Vice President Bob King was inside Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant, near Detroit, ready to tell a crowd of rank-and-file members why they should vote for more concessions to the profitable automaker. In an almost unprecedented move, management had shut down production of its best-selling F-150 so that King could sell the givebacks.
Hundreds of workers were gathered in the motor bay. When asked “Can you hear me?” some shouted “no.” Then, said member Tom Brown, “it was as if they realized what they were saying, and everybody picked it up: ‘No! No! No!’ with hand-clapping and foot-stomping.
“The man never got to speak. After they got done yelling people just walked away and went on their break.
“If anybody at Dearborn Truck is voting yes on this contract, they’re keeping it to themselves.”
Ford workers were the first of the Big 3 to give up cost-of-living increases and break time, in March. Union officials assured them then that opening their contract and taking pre-emptive concessions—before the government imposed new pacts on bankruptcy-baiting GM and Chrysler–would let them set the pattern and protect Ford workers from further cuts.
But the government, GM, and Chrysler wanted, and got, even deeper cuts—including balance-of-power-changers like giving up the right to strike and imposing a six-year-wage freeze on new hires—who’ll make half-pay, $14.50. In addition, more skilled trades were cut or combined.
In August local officials in the UAW’s Ford Council told King they weren’t interested in a reopener. But on October 13, King reached a tentative contract with Ford anyway, matching the GM and Chrysler deals, which the union called a “no-concessions” agreement.
At Dearborn Truck the union’s Local 600 unit president and six top officials distributed a leaflet urging fellow workers to vote no. “If we give up the right to STRIKE it would go against everything our union is suppose to stand for,” said Chairman Nick Kottalis. “In 17 years as a union official, this is the first time I’ve gone against the views of the international leadership,” Kottalis told Bloomberg News.
The leaders’ leaflet was one of many circulating; most of the rest were spontaneously put together by rank-and-filers. One read simply, “Message to UAW Ford National Negotiating Committee: NO.” Another said the new-hire wage freeze would “DIVIDE the UAW work force! So in 6 years when they outnumber us, and they vote NO on our pension benefits, don’t be surprised!”
At the aborted five-minute meeting, King eventually trailed off with an offer to talk to people in small groups. As workers walked away, their comments were along the lines of “these idiots have got to be put back on the line, and now.”
Gary Polen, a carpenter at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, Local 900, said of the concession proposal, “We pay our union for collective bargaining. How can the union negotiate a binding arbitration instead of the right to strike?” Eric Truss of Local 600’s frame plant responded to the officials’ Vote Yes leaflet: “They say we only lose the right to strike over improvements in wages and benefits. But that’s what people want the right to strike for. I can’t believe our Local 600 is defending the agreement in spite of all the opposition.” Judy Wraight, a Maintenance and Construction worker, said, “Concessions are a way to lose the union. We need our union.”
A leaflet signed by 18 Local 600 members from several units, including two full-time unit bargaining committee members, said of the offered $1,000 bonus, “Before you take the money and run, look to see if your feet are tied together.”
The leaflet added: “The strike threat defends our money, benefits, rights–and UAW political clout…Power in Washington starts with our power right here (for true national health insurance, converting closed plants to greener jobs and alternative transportation for auto and other workers, and defending the gains of civil rights movements, etc.).”
Voting at all Ford’s plants is set to finish by Nov. 2.
-Latest news: Workers are turning the contract down in local after local. Results are unofficial, but these are the figures circulating on UAW members’ grapevine:
At Ford’s Sterling Axle plant in Michigan, workers turned down the concessions by more than 70 percent. At UAW Local 900 in Wayne, Michigan, the total was announced as 51 percent yes – to cries of disbelief from members. And at the Kansas City assembly plant the vote was 92 percent against. The Livonia, Michigan, Transmission Plant voted no as well, 51 percent among production workers and 54 percent in skilled trades. The Sheldon Road air conditioning plant voted 82 percent no in production, 71 percent no in the trades. More vote totals are announced daily.-
Read one of the many leaflets that circulated at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant urging a “no” vote. Ron Lare can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org