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WASHINGTON – UAW President Bob King summed up the union’s three days in D.C. in five words: “We’ve had an amazing week.”
The final session of the union’s 2013 UAW CAP Conference began at dawn and gradually built to a familiar and heartfelt adjournment with 1,500 energized delegates standing arm in arm singing “Solidarity Forever.”
From its annual Women’s Breakfast to V-CAP and GimmeFIVE awards, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and a touching memorial video tribute to Region 5 Director Jim Wells, the morning program was jam-packed. It also included an organizing report and a compelling video featuring Nissan workers in Canton, Miss., trying to organize.
Here’s a recap of the day’s program:
IEB attends annual Women’s Breakfast
|UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada enthusiastically encouraged delegates to keep working to increase the political power of women. Photos by Don Lehman/UAW
UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada and the union’s entire International Executive Board gathered early Wednesday morning before a packed room of women and men for the annual Women’s Breakfast.
Once again, the purpose was to honor the achievements of women in the UAW and urge delegates to keep fighting to bring women into greater positions of influence and power in the public arena.
UAW President Bob King congratulated all women who have helped make the UAW a success for workers.
“It’s great that women are such a huge influence on, and part of, the UAW. We appreciate the women in our union,” said King.
UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams agreed.
“For the first time in UAW history, the president’s top administrative assistant is a woman, and the secretary-treasurer’s top administrative assistant is a woman. But we don’t mentor women as much as we should. We have to recognize people’s skills because we can’t afford to leave anyone behind,” said Williams.
Estrada, who directs the union’s Women’s Department, enthusiastically encouraged the audience to keep working to create an equal balance of power.
“Women are over 50 percent of the population, and yet we don’t have that much political power,” said Estrada. “We have to build coalitions by getting strategic about reaching out to all groups in society where there is injustice.”
Wasserman-Schultz: Owes her political start to support from labor.
Keynote speaker Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., thanked delegates for their support of Democratic candidates and issues, particularly because of President Barack Obama and the party’s consistent support of women’s issues.
Wasserman-Schultz said she owes her political start to support of the women of the local AFL-CIO in her Florida county where she started her career, and that type of networking and support of other women has to continue.
“I am one of only 276 women who have served in Congress,” she said. “We have to change that,” she said.
CAP delegate Marcie Walker, 59, is a Chrysler benefits representative in Kokomo, Ind. The UAW Local 685 member said she was inspired by what she heard.
“Women have historically taken a back seat to men. But that’s changing. Women are coming into their own now,” said Walker.
Valve assembler Melissa Anderson, 45, agreed. The mother of three and member of UAW Local 2069 at Volvo Heavy Duty in Dublin, Va., said women have power when they band together.
“We have a lot to say in this country. Our society has been taught to think it’s a man’s world. But we are breaking out of that shell and are no longer going to let men tell us what we can and can’t do,” said Anderson.
Panel tackles economics of poverty
What America needs now is an electric protest movement that will pull families out of poverty and turn back the clock on regressive politics that are desecrating the middle class, a distinguished panel told delegates Wednesday.
If things don’t change, the policy and political implications are grim, panelist Frances Fox Piven said.
“The United States now has the dubious honor of being the most unequal country in the world,” Piven said. “It’s bad not only for poor people, but for all of us.”
Marian Wright Edelman: We're in the
The panel, moderated by Sylvia Johnson of the UAW Legislative Department, featured children’s advocate Marian Wright Edelman and Frances Fox Piven, a distinguished professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Piven has written widely on social movements for economic justice, and has coupled her academic work with political activism.
In decades past, the union stood as a bulwark to protect people, Pivens said. That changed in the 1970s when businesses fought back about worker protections and collective bargaining rights. Unions lost money and members, she said.
“But I think we are in the beginning of another era of mobilization. We’ve got to have a new movement or this country is going to hell,” said Edelman.
Forty years ago, Edelman founded the Children’s Defense Fund, whose mission is to ensure that every child has “a healthy start, a head start, a fair start, a safe start, and a moral start in life.”
“I thought I would be out of business right now,” she said. Instead, “we have failed to invest in our children, our families and our future workforce. If the foundation of your house is crumbling, you don’t say that you can’t afford to fix it.”
CAP report: V-CAP efforts are key
UAW National CAP Director Mary Beth Cahill (Video) congratulated members on doing a remarkable job during the nation’s last campaign season.
Cahill reported that UAW members overwhelmingly supported Obama. She attributed Obama’s re-election and the Democrats maintaining control in the Senate to the boots on the ground work of tens of thousands of UAW households.
Currently, 71.6 percent of the UAW’s active membership is registered to vote. Cahill urged every registered member to contribute to V-CAP. If even half that number would also contribute time, effort and just $10 per month to V-CAP, the UAW would be well on its way to being a mega-force in the campaign contribution game.
“Money alone will not determine the outcome of an election,” said Cahill. “But still we have to make sure that we have enough money to stay in the game and continue our grassroots efforts.”
UAW Local 3520 member and Freightliner worker Jerry Hodges saw President Obama speak during his national tour – not once, but twice. Hodges feels that the country is primed for the perfect storm. This also makes it the perfect climate to rebuild the infrastructure and combat unemployment.
“People are already starting to see in GOP-controlled states, that their agenda is targeted at labor. People are going to start to see that they have to stand up. They have to fight back. They are finally seeing the value of V-CAP contributions,” said Hodges.
“I’ve seen people who wouldn’t take my literature during the election season, and now they see that the decisions are going to start winding up on their coffee tables. They can’t deny the position we are in and how all working people are being attacked,” he added.
Joe Losier, a UAW Local 869 member and Chrysler worker, is a solid V-CAP contributor and supporter. He believes in being his brother’s keeper and that the UAW community extends to and from the workplace into the city blocks and surrounding neighborhoods. Losier said the union’s V-CAP efforts are key to that.
“Earlier in the conference someone referenced the [Bruce] Springsteen line, ‘Wherever this flag's flown we take care of our own.’ That hits home for me because that is how I’ve been raised. So when politicians or corporate managers try to separate and differentiate and choose who should have and who should not, I take it as a personal offense. My instinct is to fight for the disenfranchised. V-CAP gives us that fighting power,” said Losier.
UAW Local 1799 President Nancy Betz works at the last place any GOP member would ever want a union – a bank, specifically Commercial Bank and Trust of Pennsylvania.
For 37 years, workers have been proud to call themselves UAW members, and Betz has been a member for 28 years.
“The social issues alone are enough to make us pay attention to the political landscape, not just our membership but for all workers. In order to make a difference in the lives of all workers, we all have to be totally involved,” said Betz. “All workers need to be represented to get equality for all people. We don’t need to go back in time, and I’m afraid that’s what would happen if we didn’t stand up and fight back.”
Region 5 wins V-CAP award honors
It’s no surprise that UAW Region 5 was the shining star for the past year’s V-CAP contribution drive with a total of $914,000. But it was a bittersweet victory for the region after the recent passing of the region’s longtime director, Jim Wells, in September.
Region 5 Director Gary Jones accepts the V-CAP award on behalf of the region's active and retired members.
“I’m so honored to be up here accepting this reward on behalf of Region 5 members and retirees,” said Director Gary Jones. “I’m overwhelmed.”
The award is presented to the region that has raised the most V-CAP funds to support working family candidates. For the past 13 years, the region has been setting the standard with its members’ V-CAP participation.
“We talk about what V-CAP means and members begin to understand the importance when we connect the dots by saying supporting V-CAP is supporting your job. The federal auto loans are evidence in itself. I told them V-CAP made this happen because we supported the congressional leaders who supported working families,” said Michael Cartwright, UAW Local 276 president and member for 28 years.
At Cartwright’s local in Arlington, Texas, more than $12,000 was raised in 2012, and 25 percent of his membership contributes. And he hopes to keep improving on that number.
Region 1C Director
While all regions boosted V-CAP contribution totals, Region 1C Director Norwood Jewell took to the stage to grab the award for most improved. This is based on the number of members signed up and the level of giving.
“On behalf of the membership and backbone and heart of the region and the retirees, congratulations, Region 1C,” said Jewell.
And the GimmeFIVE awards go to …
Region 1 Director
Region 9A Director
Region 2B Director
The union’s GimmeFIVE Program celebrated its 2012 achievements with special awards presented Wednesday.
UAW Region 1 Director Charles Hall accepted the first-place award for outstanding overall recruitment of members. UAW Region 9A Director Julie Kushner accepted her region’s second-place award.
For the first time, an award was presented to the region with 25 percent of its membership active in the program.
UAW Region 2B Director Ken Lortz accepted that award on behalf of his region’s members.
The program has 65,326 members, including 8,388 added in 2012. Last year, GimmeFIVE members participated in more than 155 events.
UAW Local 455 member Lynette Royer said she was inspired.
“This conference has been so educational,” said Royer of Saginaw, Mich. “You learn why participating in GimmeFIVE is so important. It is one thing to show up to an event; it’s another when you know why it is so vitally important.”
The education and mobilization program was launched at the 35th UAW Constitutional Convention in June 2010 by President Bob King, the newly elected International Executive Board officers and regional directors, and local union delegates. GimmeFIVE recruits and engages members in a new and innovative mobilizing program to Organize, Build Power and Win Justice for our union and community.
Pelosi: Budget should reflect values
“Sequester is not a solution; it is out of the question. It gives a new meaning to March Madness,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., 12th District, told delegates. “We believe the budget should be a statement of our national values.”
The former Speaker of the House said that no matter what tricks Republicans are trying to play with the budget, trade or immigration, the voices of working families will be at the table.
“We can make a difference in the debate in the next couple of months, and we can make a difference in the election is 2014,” she said.
“I liked that Rep. Pelosi talked about how the Republicans had no problems with the budget when they were driving the deficit up with the wars, but now they complain about Medicare,” said Matt Beaver of UAW Local 699 in Saginaw, Mich. “They want to penalize those on Medicare but they don’t want to tax the wealthy.”
Jim Wells tribute: ‘A good friend and brother’
The family of the late Jim Wells with Region 5 Director Gary Jones.
When the house lights went down during today’s session, one of the videos being shown was a tribute to the memory and a life in pictures of Region 5 Director Jim Wells.
“We lost a good friend and brother. He was smart, tough, funny, and passionately committed to the workers,” said UAW President Bob King as he introduced the video shown during the conference. “His V-CAP awards are a tribute to his unchallenged and legendary leadership and recognition of the workers under Jim. Many others have tried to follow his example. Our union is a better one because of Jim’s lifetime of service. Jim and his family will always be a part of our family.”
“Jim was a very visible leader and very supportive, not just during negotiations, but when we had events, he was there to show us that we mattered,” said Michael Cartwright, Local 276 president in Arlington, Texas.
Gene Hurd, president of amalgamated UAW Local 509, has been a member since 1971. Hurd understood the strong support of V-CAP under Wells, a 13-year leader in contributions.
“When members don’t have VCAP checkoff, we sell tickets at their locations because that money supports the issues of unions and laborers. While we’re contemplating, our enemies are out here trying to undercut us with divisive and destructive legislation. Their mission is to break us and eliminate us,” said Hurd. “This is the lesson that Jim preached to us, no matter if we were at a quality meeting, a safety meeting or whatever else. For him, the workers came first. He left that legacy for us.”
Jeff Wright, a UAW Local 249 member from Ford’s Kansas City, Mo., plant, said Wells’ allegiance to workers was a value ingrained in the region’s members.
“Winning the V-CAP award this year again was an honor and a tribute to Jim. For most of the year, half of my plant was down, but we still managed to come out on top. It’s a testimony to what can be accomplished when we are all striving to achieve this goal,” said Wright.
Williams: The UAW is working hard with unions across the world on the transnational campaign.
Organizing: Comprehensive report
Delegates were updated on the UAW’s efforts to organize new workplaces and reinvigorate the labor movement.
UAW Vice President Joe Ashton (Video) directs the union’s Gaming sector, where organizing efforts are showing promise in the growing industry.
“We have an obligation to retirees to make this union strong in the future. A lot of casinos have organizing victories so far, but we need more. We have 12,000 new members in gaming, but the number of casinos continues to grow. We need more victories, because the worst day in a union shop is the best day in a nonunion shop,” said Ashton.
UAW Vice President Estrada, who is leading organizing efforts with parts suppliers, told delegates about the efforts to organize workers at parts supplier Flex-n-Gate.
“We have to stand up for all suppliers. Flex-n-Gate is very profitable and growing but won’t bargain in good faith. The workers are exposed to dangerous chemicals and harsh working conditions every day,” Estrada said.
The domestic automakers have to support this, said Estrada, because their parts are dependent on what happens at suppliers. Four workers described the horrific working conditions at Flex-n-Gate and reiterated that they love their jobs but want safe working conditions and enough money so they don’t have to be on welfare, which is the case for many workers there.
Secretary-Treasurer Williams heads up transnational efforts. He told delegates about a UAW organizing victory at Navistar in Tulsa, Okla., with 700 new members and another 500 workers expected to be hired by the end of 2013.
“One huge challenge is rebuilding the labor movement and eliminating the injustice of the two-tier system. The two-tier system will be in place until we can organize the transnationals,” said Williams.
Williams showed a moving video outlining the struggles of workers in Canton, Miss., to organize for a voice on the job at Nissan. The video showed the widespread community support for the organizing campaign and its connection with the history of Mississippi’s civil rights struggles. It ended with a moving rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” which prompted delegates to rise to their feet, hold hands and sing along.
“The community support for Nissan is a powerful statement. The community alliance has complete ownership of the campaign, with a committee comprised of religious, civic and other leaders,” said Williams.
Actor and activist Danny Glover is the campaign’s spokesman, he said, and another strength of this campaign.
Williams said the UAW is working hard with international unions, particularly the Japanese Auto Workers (JAW) union, and has received tremendous support for the Nissan and other transnational organizing campaigns in the United States.
“This Nissan campaign is a remarkable message to companies all over the world: You can’t come here and intimidate workers,” said Williams.
Holly Baumel is a member of UAW Local 95 in Janesville, Wis., who said she was inspired by the organizing presentations.
“People think unions aren’t needed anymore, that they’re just there to get all the cushy stuff for workers,” said the Blackhawk Area Credit Union worker. “Unions are so desperately needed now. I’ve been following the Nissan campaign on Facebook and social media, and I know that that’s not true. They’re needed now more than ever.”
CAP delegates sing 'We Shall Overcome' along with Nissan workers featured in the video.
UAW President Bob King says companies that prevent workers from having a voice in the United States should not be allowed to do this.
“I want Nissan management to know that just like our sisters and brothers at labor hunger strikes, just like the great foremothers and forefathers who said moral rights and human rights are most important, we are going to demand our justice,” King said.
Gwynne Cobb, Sandra Davis and Joan Silvi contributed to this story.