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When the Democratic National Convention gets under way next week in Charlotte, N.C., the UAW will be represented with delegates from all over the country. This week, they will discuss what they expect and hope will come out of the convention.
Lynn Nelson, a retired tool grinder/machinist journeyman, began his career in 1960 at Fisher Body in Pontiac, Mich. He transferred to the Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., in 1986 and retired after nearly four decades with GM. His two sons have 28 years at GM. He's been involved in politics since he could vote more than a half century ago.
"I've been involved in politics for as long as I could vote. This is the first time I felt a responsibility to try to become a delegate. Obama took a chance on us. He stood for us when we were abandoned by everyone. We need to support him all the way.
"It's a sad commentary of this country and of our state that Obama doesn't get the credit for what he's done for this country and for turning this country around and steering it in the right direction.
"Walter Reuther said 'it doesn’t matter what you win at the bargaining table, if the gains can be legislated away in the halls of Congress.' I hope that we can bring back balance in this country because the GOP is determined to strip unions and destroy the working class. The union has to protect the workers because it would be a disservice to workers if we didn't."
Jeff Wright is president of Local 249, which represents workers at the Kansas City Assembly plant. Workers there assemble the Ford F-150 pickup truck.
"It's not so much me personally, but I'm hoping that unions in general will have a bigger voice in the platform of the Democratic Party. My father went in '96 and talking to him when he got back I always thought it would be something that I would want to do. I was just lucky enough to get to go sometimes.
I grew up with politics, my father was a union rep and committeeman. I think any union member should be involved in politics. I was raised watching the Nelson Lehrer report and This Week in Review. I've been involved in politics ever since I can remember. My father always said, if you don't get involved in the process you will be destined to be lead by inferior powers.
If unions are not involved in politics we will cease to exist and that is what it seems that the GOP platform is all about. They are stripping workers of their rights, damaging the middle class, working class opportunities. Without unions I can't imagine what the workday/worklife would look like.
Every civil rights issue that ever came up, the unions were right in the middle of it. It's vital that we be involved in politics. It's not a question."
Mary Bingenheimer knows that without President Obama's direct intervention, her job at Chrysler's Belvidere, (Ill.,) Assembly plant wouldn't exist today. A 15-year veteran employee, she builds rear suspensions. The Local 1268 member chairs the election committee and has served on its women's committee, always volunteers to work during Election Day. She's ready to go again because she recalls how scary those days in 2008 and 2009 were. They didn't know if they would have jobs. Now the plant is doing good, producing the fuel-efficient Dodge Dart as well as the Jeep Compass and Patriot models.
"I'm looking forward to getting more energized with people and work for the re-election of President Obama. This is my first convention and I'm very honored to be going. Our fight is not only for UAW members but for the American worker."
Bonnie Lauria, age 70, retired in 2000 after 28 years at GM Powertrain, Bay City, Local 362.
"I am hoping that next week people see what a great president Barack Obama has been and what his goals are. I am especially interested in what's going to happen with Medicare and Social Security, and hopefully they'll talk about those two programs at the convention. President Obama helped GM when it was having trouble, and without him I probably wouldn't get my monthly pension. I work hard to make sure my union brothers and sisters understand the importance of voting for President Obama in November; I am an international area councilperson and chair three counties. In that role I go to three meetings a month and really push the election and why it's important to working families. We need to support President Obama."
Randy Schmidt, age 58, retired in 2006 after roughly 20 years in quality control at GM Fort Wayne, Local 2209.
"We are living in dangerous times. We have to ask ourselves whether America will continue down the road of progress exemplified by FDR, Lincoln and Jefferson or go back to a darker time in history. If it hadn't been for President Obama and the auto loans, GM would not exist and GM Fort Wayne wouldn't be there today. We have to make sure President Obama gets re-elected in November. I'm looking forward to the convention."
Local 2488's Barbara Fisher will spend her 24-year anniversary of her hire-in date at Mitsubishi's Normal, Ill., plant at the Democratic National Convention. She recently spent a lot of time in Mississippi, reaching out to non-union auto workers who would like to be represented by the UAW. She understands the implications for organizing if corporate America succeeds in getting Mitt Romney elected:
"Oh my goodness I think it would be impossible," said Fisher, who puts tires together on the Mitsubishi assembly line. "They will put in laws that will make it impossible to organize. They will give the companies all the backing they need to make it impossible to organize -- whatever it takes to make sure the companies can get the result they want."
Fisher added that President Obama has gotten us out of the hole that the Bush administration left us in and deserves the opportunity to finish the job.
"He's trying to help us. Let him do it," she said. "We need to do whatever we can to help him."
She cannot understand why anyone, particularly in a bad economy, would be against the president's signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
"How can you not be for health care? With a lot of people losing their jobs, that's one of the things you lose."
A minimum wage job with no benefits leaves many Americans exposed to financial disaster.
"If you are treading water, you sink so quickly."
Local 1268's Maria Medina, a 14-year veteran at the Chrysler Belvidere (Ill.) Assembly plant, is a team leader in the chassis department and grateful for the chance to show the U.S. taxpayer their dollars were not wasted. The auto rescue engineered by President Obama gave workers the opportunity to showcase their talents on the new Dodge Dart.
"It's getting excellent reviews. We're very excited. My expectations are to learn as much as I can and bring it back to everyone in Illinois. I'm excited because I've never been to a convention before. If it wasn't for President Obama we would be out of jobs right now. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to let us get back going."
Louis Rocha, age 52, active member at GM Lake Orion Assembly as a line technician since 2006. Before that he worked at Delphi Chassis in Saginaw, Local 467, as an electrician from 2000 to 2006, then at Thompson Ball and Screw in Saginaw, Local 2275, from 1988 to 2000.
"This plant (Lake Orion) was going to close in 2009, and thanks to President Obama having faith in us, we have our jobs today. I'm hoping next week in Charlotte we can generate excitement and energy for re-electing President Obama and be reminded of what Republicans are trying to do to workers, what they're trying to take away from us and what's at stake in the November election."
Andrew Linko, an electrician who hired into the Ford Motor Co., Woodhaven (Mich.) stamping plant in 1996, hopes the Democratic National Convention will enrergize UAW members as well as the general public. The Local 387 member says the goal of Republicans in the last four years has not been to help get America out of the Bush recession or grow jobs.
"Our candidate, Barak Obama, has done a great job! Republicans said right off the bat when President Obama was elected that their No. 1 goal was to defeat him as president. That says a lot.
"Their goal isn’t to help the country or to work together and compromise the way it used to be. Their goal is to defeat President Obama. The country is polarized so much and I’m hoping our members see that.”
Kelli Harrison, a 23-year veteran associate at the Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Ill., is excited to go to her first Democratic National Convention because she lives and breathes politics. The Local 2488 member got that from her father while growing up in a union household. Harrison, who installs doors on the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport assembly line, is keenly aware of what a Romney presidency would mean for women. Rep. Todd Akin's recent comments about rape reinforced that for her.
"My jaw just dropped," Harrison recalled when she heard the comments from Missouri candidate for U.S. Senate. "Do these people just not get it?"
"They are trying to take away women's rights, our freedom of choice," she said when asked about the Romney-Ryan platform on women's issues. "I can't believe those people think it's OK to pay a woman not as much as a man." She also asked her congressman, Rep. Aaron Schock, about raising the Social Security retirement age to 69 1/2, which the Republican supports.
"I can do your job when I'm 69 1/2, but I can't do mine" she said.
David Ventrone, 64, retired in 2008, a former Local 362 health and safety representative, EAP representative and toolmaker for 30 years at GM Powertrain, Bay City, Mich.:
"I'm looking forward to seeing the convention next week - this is my first one. Hopefully the platform will help workers understand that we're not going to sit by and let the GOP take us back to the policies that got us into the economic mess that we're in."
Mia Hooper, a 15-year veteran employee of GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, is a convention delegate and trustee from Local 22:
"I think it's absolutely important as citizens to be involved in the democratic process. We need to be in control of our own destinies. We have a responsibility to be a participant. Just complaining about the state of things doesn't do any good.
"I'm most looking forward to seeing people in the UAW and outside the UAW coming together as one for a cause. Putting aside differences and accepting our diversities.
"I think it's important that we have a strong turnout to show the we are united. That we are organized and ready to mobilize!