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One was a past Michigan governor and the other a former adviser to General Motors.
Trustees of the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) for UAW auto company retirees – formally known as the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust – have chosen Stephen J. Girsky and James J. Blanchard to serve on the GM and Chrysler boards of directors, respectively, with the consent of the UAW.
Starting Jan. 1 the Trust assumed responsibility for paying the health-care bills of GM and Chrysler Holding LLC’s retired UAW-represented workers.
Both men will get an independent vote on their respective boards.
With 20 years of automotive experience, Girsky is president of S.J. Girsky and Co., a New York advisory firm. He served as a managing director and senior analyst of Morgan Stanley’s auto research team. Girsky has been an adviser to UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and the International Executive Board. He also previously worked as an adviser to GM.
As a Michigan congressman, Blanchard was a key figure in getting Congress to approve federal loan guarantees for Chrysler Corp. in 1980. After serving as Michigan’s governor from 1983 to 1990, Blanchard was U.S. ambassador to Canada during the Clinton administration. Now a lawyer in Washington, Blanchard has wide experience in the auto industry, international trade and related issues.
Joe Biden calls it “investing in innovation.”
“While some wanted to write off America’s auto industry, we said no. We knew that we needed to do something different, in Delaware and all across the nation,” said the U.S. vice president of plans to breathe new life into the shuttered General Motors assembly plant in Wilmington.
“We understood a new chapter had to be written – a new chapter in which we strengthen American manufacturing by investing in innovation,” added Biden, former Delaware senator.
With the help of UAW lobbying efforts for advanced vehicle manufacturing and federal dollars, the plant will become a production facility for Fisker Automotive, a new American car company that plans to produce 100,000 electric hybrid vehicles per year by 2014.
“The rebirth of this idled plant is a positive and exciting step forward for this industry and a boost for the economy and for skilled automotive workers. We hope to see this happening more and more throughout the country,” said UAW Presi-
dent Ron Gettelfinger. He and Region 8 Director Gary Casteel joined Biden and Fisker executives for the Oct. 27 announcement.
Fisker’s investment in the First State is expected to create thousands of assembly and parts supplier jobs. GM’s former Wilmington assembly plant was selected for its primary global production facility based on its size, production capacity, access to shipping ports and rail lines, and skilled workforce.
Based in southern California, Fisker received a $528.7 million federal loan to help pay for a production plant and refurbishing costs to give new life to the 52-year-old facility. Also, the company says it will help support engineering integration in Michigan and California as it works with U.S. suppliers to complete the first vehicle, design tools and equipment for mass manufacturing, and develop manufacturing processes for the Wilmington plant.
Tom “Pig” Newton, a member of UAW Local 98, doesn’t have that alleged “gold-plated” or “Cadillac” health care plan that opponents of reform love to criticize.
In fact, Newton is among the 47 million Americans who don’t have health care at all. He’s just one of our fellow citizens who lives in constant pain from his medical condition and in constant fear that he’s going to be financially ruined.
The former crank shaft machine operator at Navistar in Indianapolis was laid off in May 2008. The plant closed this summer. He has diabetes that has caused holes in his feet, severe arthritis and psoriasis. He can barely afford his medicine.
But the arthritis medicine, which he discovered also alleviates his psoriasis, costs an unaffordable $1,100 a month for eight shots.
“I’m just going without, and it gets worse every day,” Newton said.
That’s why he and other concerned UAW members in Indiana were on the phones Nov. 5 at UAW Local 226 as part of the National Week of Action on health care. They made their struggles known to Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, who like his entire party, is fighting reform of America’s highly inefficient health care system. And they urged their Democratic senator, Evan Bayh, who generally supports health care reform, to back specific elements of reform so it truly helps people like Tom Newton.
“I just want them to know it’s my only ray of hope,” Newton said.
With health care reform passed by five key committees in the House and Senate, the United States is moving closer than ever to quality affordable health care for all.
The House version of the bill, which contains significant health care reform provisions, was passed Nov. 7. But the real test has been in the Senate, where some conservative Democrats have not made up their minds about how far to go with reform.
At press time, the Senate was expected to continue debate over the holidays.
UAW members across the country are joining the effort to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive bill that is fair to working families.
UAW Region 3, for example, had six phone lines working at Local 226 and urged 20,000 UAW members across the Indianapolis area to ramp up the pressure on lawmakers by calling the U.S. Capitol and asking for the senators from their state.
And that’s why Newton and other UAW members had phones jammed up against their ears. Some had lost insurance or had their health care benefits severely reduced when the auto industry went into a tailspin. Many UAW members haven’t seen a wage increase because money for those has been eaten up by dramatic increases in the cost of health care for employers.
“When we go to the bargaining table, the biggest issue is the cost of health care because it’s the most expensive,” said Maurice Davison, director of Region 3, which includes Indiana and Kentucky. “It’s getting to the point where employers can’t afford to pay for health care for their employees.”
And in Indianapolis, and elsewhere throughout our union, there can be no doubt that health care reform is an issue we all care deeply about. Just ask Tom Newton.
The current recession, instigated by Wall Street bankers and titans of the financial services industry, has victimized Main Street and shaken the very foundation of the American economy.
The staggering loss of 7.3 million jobs since the beginning of the recession in December 2007 translates into a national unemployment rate over 10 percent - the highest in 26 years. Including discouraged workers who have given up trying to find employment and those who have been forced to accept part-time jobs or fewer hours, the 17 percent real unemployment rate is staggering.
Tremendous job loss has resulted in a record number of home foreclosures and individual bankruptcies. In 2008 alone, approximately one in 54 homeowners received a foreclosure notice, and more than 850,000 families lost their homes. In addition, there were nearly 700,000 personal bankruptcies in just the first six months of 2009.
It’s hard to imagine the suffering that would have occurred had the Obama administration ignored the recession’s impact on the domestic automobile industry, as some had advocated.
As noted in this financial report, the compound impact of the recession, job loss and accompanying membership loss challenged UAW finances in 2008. While 2009 has brought modest relief, we continue to make difficult but necessary decisions to ensure that we maintain a solid financial structure without compromising our commitment to the membership.
As a UAW member, your monthly dues investment of two hours’ pay not only earns improved pay and working conditions, it secures a foundation for the union to continue advocating on behalf of working families.
As we look forward to the future, we will continue to advocate and mobilize for national health care reform and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. After decades of work, both are within reach. And with passage, our labor movement will be poised to grow in record numbers and to secure justice for the millions of American workers who want a union but have been prevented from being able to secure one.
This financial report provides information about the union’s financial position. Among the highlights:
• The union’s total fund balance at the end of 2008 was $1,168,709,896.89.
•Total income in 2008 was $204 million, while total expenses were $264 million. The difference, $60 million of disbursements in excess of receipts, was due primarily to a significant decline in investment earnings as a result of the near collapse of financial markets, a large increase in the number of members eligible for strike benefits, and lower per capita taxes due to declining membership.
•Approximately 50 percent of all dues collected since June of 2006 went to local unions, 5 percent went to the Strike Assistance Fund, and 45 percent went to the International Union’s General Fund.
•Overall active and retired membership stood at 1,049,388.
•During 2008, our Union won 86 recognition elections, accounting for 8,987 potential new members.
•Approximately 14,880 UAW members went on strike or were locked out in 2008, and they received over $43.3 million from the union’s Strike Assistance Fund, which pays for weekly benefits, medical assistance, and other expenditures.
A link to view/download the summary from UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bun is povided on the left. The full report is available for examination at all local unions.
It’s common for automotive suppliers that want to keep a union out to try to scare workers with phony stories about how they’ll lose business if workers join the UAW.
Frightening Anti-Union Scenario No. 1 goes like this: “Our nonunion customers will not want to do business with companies with a UAW-represented workforce, so you should vote no.”
This horror story doesn’t hold up on close examination – as anyone can find out with a visit to AK Steel in Butler, Pa. Workers there have been manufacturing stainless steel to the exacting specifications of nonunion companies such as Toyota and Honda for years.
Workers at the 1,300-acre western Pennsylvania plant have had an independent union since 1933. They voted to join the UAW in 2003. According to the above scenario, Honda and Toyota would soon pull out and find a new non-UAW supplier, right?
Honda, Toyota and others stayed because they know Local 3303 members at AK Steel are world-class workers making the world-class steel they need.
“The bottom line is if we don’t have quality, we don’t have customers and we don’t have jobs,” said Keith Vensel, a quality control coordinator who started at AK Steel in 1973.
“It’s a great workforce. You couldn’t get a better workforce,” said Vensel, who is responsible for inspections and labs. “They are concerned about what they do, care about what they do and want to do a good job.”
In fact, so good of a job that AK Steel was the only steel company in the world to receive one of Toyota Motor Corp.’s four inaugural Regional Contribution Awards. The criteria for a supplier to be considered for the award include having previously received Toyota’s Superior performance award for a minimum of three years.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Inc. (TMMNA) has also recognized the quality work that the 1,266 UAW-represented Butler workers perform, including winning awards in 11 consecutive years and the Superior award in seven consecutive years.
AK Steel, a Fortune 500 company with plants in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, manufactures flat-rolled carbon, stainless and electrical steel products, as well as carbon and stainless tubular steel products for the automotive, appliance, construction and manufacturing markets.
UAW Local 3462 represents 345 workers at its Coshocton, Ohio, facility; Local 4104 represents 213 workers at its Zanesville, Ohio, plant, while 190 Rockport, Ind., workers are represented by Local 3044. Officials from these UAW locals meet once a month to discuss their common problems and interests.
Electrical and stainless steel melting and casting, hot and cold rolling, and finishing operations are housed in 3.5 million square feet of buildings at Butler. AK Steel supplies flat-rolled steels used in every Toyota vehicle manufactured in North America. Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda and Toyota automakers’ representatives are often onsite to ensure their exacting standards are being met.
“They come in pretty frequently,” said Sharon Marsh, a quality control coordinator responsible for the cold mill, roll grinding, cold mill maintenance, electrical finishing, electrical shipping and material movement areas. “They are in there to make sure we have control over our product.”
Maintaining control over the product, the quality control coordinators say, involves an avalanche of paperwork and a list of acronyms that resembles a bowl of alphabet soup: You have your ISO9001, your ISO/TS 16949 certification and registration under ISO 14001, not to mention your DPs (Department Specific Procedures, your QSOPS (Quality Standard Operating Procedures), the QSMPs (Quality Standard Maintenance Procedures) and a litany of others.
A lot of what they do is document control: making sure the correct paperwork is filled out completely and accurately. Missing or incomplete documents can lead to a mill losing registrations or certifications. That can lead to lost customers. And that can lead to where no one wants to go.
“Re-registration is very important to the industry,” Vensel said. “If they are not certified to that standard, they will not buy that product.”
But don’t get the idea that Local 3303 members spend their days mired in paperwork. They are highly trained, skilled and dedicated workers who are out near one of the mill’s three, 175-ton arc furnaces or at the world’s largest argon-oxygen decarburization (AOD) unit, or in one of the many mills, labs, boilers and countless other areas, getting their hands dirty as they make sure what goes out the door is the highest quality product possible.
“Their hands are in everything,” said Local 3303 Vice President Brian Cossitor.
Which brings us to
Frightening Anti-Union Scenario No. 2: “You’ll have ‘people from Detroit’ in here telling us how to do our business.”
In fact, the reality in the mill at Butler – and on hundreds of plant floors represented by the UAW – is far different. Involvement and input at the local level is key, Butler workers say.
“We still run our own program here,” Vensel said. “We’re a very specialized plant.”
Butler’s quality coordinators, selected jointly by the local and management, ensure that they have a say in how the work is done at Butler. They recognize potential problems, report them to management and then help come up with solutions.
That’s not to say there aren’t conflicts between the local and management at the plant. Joining the UAW helped Butler workers not only in the production of steel, but in the protection of wages, benefits, health and safety, and workplace rights. The facility is serviced by a UAW representative based in Butler, with additional support on bargaining, health and safety, legal issues, and other areas as needed to secure solid workplace representation.
Some problems, according to Local 3303 President Jerry Ehrman, are resolved without going through the time and expense of arbitration.
“We still run our day-to-day operations, but anytime we have something major we make a phone call and the UAW is right there,” Ehrman said. “We do get a lot of stuff accomplished. There’s a lot of assistance from the resources of the UAW and Region 9,” which covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey and western New York.
Health and safety is always an issue at any workplace, and a steel plant has heavy equipment and high-temperature operations that can quickly become dangerous if proper procedures are not followed. Seven UAW-represented safety coordinators work hard to make sure the company’s procedures, as well as state and federal laws, are carried out.
“We’re required to make sure procedures are correct and hazards are recognized,” said Dale Fennel, a safety coordinator with 15 years’ seniority.
Safety coordinators are the liaison between union and company. Nearly all of the coordinators have been to the Walter and May Reuther UAW Family Education Center in Onaway, Mich., for training.
“The latest technology is really what I get out of it,” said Bruce Thoma, a safety coordinator with 23 years on the job. “We talk about safety outside the mill as well.”
Ehrman added the company isn’t shy about spending the money to ensure that it has a top-flight safety program. Butler was the first steel plant in the nation to receive the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s “Star” safety designation, the highest under its Voluntary Protection Program.
Members also participate in the UAW’s Community Action Program, in which they use their own money to support candidates who support working families, such as the district’s new congresswoman, Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper.
The lawmaker added Local 3303’s CAP chairman, Rick McPherson, to her labor advisory board, a move that helps the local stay abreast of legislation affecting workers and the steel industry.
“We previously had 20 years of a congressman who wasn’t very labor friendly,” McPherson said.
Local 3303 members are active in the community. Among the outreach efforts it participates in, members earlier this year provided free tickets to needy children so they could watch the Butler Blue Sox minor league baseball team.
“We try to do a lot for the community,” Ehrman said. “Some of these kids would have been unable to go to a baseball game, and our members chipped in.”
AK Steel workers are always ready to help other workers. Members have walked picket lines to support local teachers and recently used its UAW chaplains to provide outreach to unemployed workers.
But the main focus is to make sure AK Steel secures the future of its own workers by continuing to produce world-quality steel and maintaining a decent standard of living in Butler.
“Everybody has that same feeling,” said quality coordinator John Lasichak, a 13-year worker responsible for the melt shop and refractory services. “It’s a family down here.”
We may thank almighty God for the gift of labor,
Yours, mine, his, hers, friend, foe, neighbor.
For work is the glue that binds us all together,
To crown success upon all that we endeavor.
With labor stationed at the throttle,
We need no genie in a bottle.
Relying on our own rough hands,
We scorn the wealth of other lands.
By honest toil we soon acquire,
Perhaps, not all our hearts desire,
Still, mother is able to cook three meals a day,
With money left over, the plumber and doctor to pay.
The children need books and raincoats and shoes on their feet.
So, what’s left for my sweetheart? Just a kiss on the cheek!
What should be done, can be done, must be done,
To lighten up this stressed-out globe and make it hum?
Rumors fly and remedies abound
From New York City to London Towne.
To calm the fear, reduce the trouble,
Allay the pain and clear the rubble,
It’s work we need, dear friends, and work alone,
To turn a pile of bricks into a home.
We lift together to set this grand Old World aright,
So peace may reign and happiness take flight.
When you’re having a bad day, sometimes it’s hard to count your blessings. But what if your day is so bad that you barely escape it alive? Roy Pierce had one of those days.
One day in October 2009, the 57-year-old UAW Local 9699 member and maintenance technician at Johnson Controls Interior Manufacturing (JCIM) in Port Huron, Mich., was doing his rounds at the plant.
“I was doing preventative maintenance on (an injection molding) machine and checking mercury relays with an amp meter,” said Pierce. “I put the meter down to grab the tag off the machine.”
That’s when his bad day started.
“My right hand hit one of the power sources of the relay. I had grounded myself to the machine with my hand and head, and it completed the circuit. That’s when 240 volts of electricity went through me. A regular household outlet is 120 volts by comparison. I felt the shock going through me for a second or two; my whole body vibrated and shook. Then I passed out,” Pierce said.
He fell, suffered a concussion and got nine staples in his head to close a wound.
Pierce didn’t know at the time that he wasn’t alone.
One of those who rushed to his side was his co-worker of 14 years, Steve Gofton.
The 46-year-old Local 9699 member and JCIM maintenance technician has been part of a Rapid Response team at the company since 1994. The team is a group of workers at the plant who are trained by the local fire department to respond to a variety of emergencies from oil leaks and fires to hazardous materials situations and medical emergencies.
“[When Roy was electrocuted], I was doing my regular maintenance when I heard over the public address system, ‘Action Team, press 23!’ I was only a few presses down,” said Gofton, “so I turned down the aisle and saw everyone running to the press. I leaned over and saw Roy on the floor.”
He performed CPR, including chest compressions, until an ambulance arrived.
“I was just trying to save my friend’s life,” Gofton said.
“All I knew was that Roy was on the floor and we had to help him. I’m just happy my friend is alive.”
So is Pierce.
“I feel lucky that I’m still alive. My nephew is a cop, and he says he’s seen three people electrocuted, and none has lived. So, I guess I feel pretty lucky. It beats being dead,” he said.
Gofton credits the Rapid Response team with playing a major role in saving Pierce.
“Every workplace should have a team,” he said. “In the UAW we’re all working together as a team, and here we’re also a team, one unit.”
At press time Pierce was home recuperating and getting medical treatment for severe headaches, dizziness and exacerbated heart problems.
But he remains grateful for the quick-thinking response of co-workers like Gofton from the Rapid Response team.
“It’s good he was there and knew what to do,” Pierce said. “This is a great thing to have. The more people know how to do things like CPR, the better off everybody is.”
President Ron Gettelfinger’s columns are always right on target, and the November-December 2009 one concerning health care reform was the best yet.
This is one of the most important issues of our time because it relates not only to UAW members, but also to the entire nation.
Thank you for keeping us so well informed.
UAW Local 1863 retiree
Spring Hill, Tenn.
As long as we force employers to provide health insurance to their employees, we are missing the point about true health care reform, which should be a universal, single-payer system.
Businesses have closed because of the existing high costs of providing health insurance. Manufacturing has declined because of high health insurance costs. Companies doing business overseas do not have to pay for health insurance. All other industrialized countries of the world, including Iraq and Cuba, believe health care is a basic human right and provide health care to their residents.
The recent legislation passed in the U.S. House will only perpetuate an already complex medical bureaucracy and allow the insurance companies to profit more than ever.
We need to get the insurance companies out of the picture. It’s wrong and a conflict of interest for them to make so much money off sick people.
We need more health care, not more insurance.
UAW Local 1981
(National Writers Union)
I really enjoyed your cartoon (Solidarity, November-December 2009 “From the readers”) about the middle class.
I’m one of countless college graduates who struggle to enter the middle class. After many months of searching, I was hired by a small grocery that pays minimum wage and doesn’t offer any health benefits. So I pay for health care coverage for my Type 1 diabetes needs.
Please continue your fight for the middle class, economic stability and health care reform.
(Editor’s note: The writer’s parents, Scott Shantz and Marsha Shantz, are members of UAW Locals 900 and 6000, respectively.)
On a recent trip to California I was amazed at the ratio of foreign vehicles to American ones. (I even had trouble finding an American one at the car rental agency.)
I think more has to be done to make the public aware of how many jobs are affected by purchasing and lost by not purchasing an American union-made car.
UAW Local 140 retiree
I don’t understand the GOP. When they were in power, they made a mess out of two wars, gave a lop-sided tax break to the wealthy and wanted to privatize Social Security by having us invest in the stock market.
If the GOP and their cheerleaders at Fox News had their way, I would’ve lost my pension and my health insurance.
At least President Obama cares about workers.
The GOP acts like candle makers who are opposed to electricity.
UAW Local 167 retiree
Comstock Park, Mich.
In 1967 the UAW purchased approximately 750 acres of vacant land in northern Michigan. Walter Reuther’s vision was to create a world-class educational facility for the use of UAW members.
Over the years the union purchased additional nearby land and constructed the Walter and May Reuther UAW Family Education Center.
The center has provided a unique educational experience for many thousands of UAW members over the years.
Open for 10 months each year, the center hosts meetings and conferences for thousands of UAW members, including education programs for union activists, regional summer schools, and meetings on health and safety, civil and human rights, political action and other subjects.
In addition, in 2000 the UAW added a public golf course, the Black Lake Golf Club, to the facilities.
With the recession and the contraction of employment in the auto industry and related manufacturing industries, the UAW has been exploring options to reduce costs in all aspects of operations. As part of this review, for the past several years the UAW has been exploring a possible sale of the union’s golf course and other components of the education center in Onaway, Mich.
In order to move this process forward on a broader basis, the UAW has now retained a national real estate firm, CB Richard Ellis, to explore the real estate market for properties such as Black Lake and investigate possible opportunities.
Over the next several months, this firm will be conducting a national search for prospective buyers, and the UAW will continue to evaluate the opportunities as they are developed.
“The Black Lake facility has a unique and legendary role in the history of the UAW and the entire labor movement,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. “We regret that current financial conditions require us to explore the possible sale of the property. “At the same time, members of our International Executive Board recognize that the assets of the UAW belongs to the entire membership of our union and that, as good stewards, the UAW must always make sure that it is using those resources wisely and cost-effectively.”
“Educating our membership will always be a core activity for our union,” said Gettelfinger. “Our responsibility now is to plan for the future, so we can bring our members together in the most cost-effective way possible.”
Never underestimate the dedication, talent and toughness of American workers.
That’s the common theme of several stories in this issue of Solidarity, where you’ll read how UAW Local 3303 members in Butler, Pa., are producing steel that Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda and Toyota buy to put in their vehicles because of its top quality.
In fact, steel made by UAW members is used in every Toyota vehicle manufactured in North America, the very vehicles that have garnered multiple awards for their superior performance.
In Pennsylvania, Toyota is giving UAW-made products the strongest possible endorsement: spending precious corporate cash to buy UAW-made steel for its U.S.-produced vehicles.
But in California, Toyota has chosen to abandon its workers, and state residents, with its decision to close the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) assembly plant in Fremont, Calif.
It’s hard to fathom why Toyota, which is spending $1 billion on marketing in California – its single biggest market in the United States – would want to walk away from a plant that has been so successful in productivity, quality and sales.
UAW members deserve better, and we’re not giving up.
NUMMI workers are circulating a petition to keep their plant open. They’ve already collected more than 30,000 signatures, which they’ll be presenting to Toyota executives in the coming weeks. (See story, Page 7.)
While Toyota turns its back on American workers, a new auto company called Fisker Automotive has made a dramatically different decision.
A new entry in the automotive field, Fisker is planning to refurbish a shuttered GM plant in Wilmington, Del., to produce 100,000 electric hybrid vehicles per year by 2014. (See story, Page 6.)
Part of the funding for this vehicles-of-the-future project will come from the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Incentive Program. UAW members successfully lobbied to create and win funds for this program, which gives low-cost loans to companies that build advanced technology vehicles and their key components here in the United States.
Fisker’s investment shows the importance of this effort to transform the U.S. auto industry. The plant is expected to employ 2,000 workers and create more than 3,000 vendor and supplier jobs by 2014. This is the kind of sound economic policy our union has been calling for all along: investing in American manufacturing and American jobs.
Time and again, American workers have proven we have what it takes to make these investments pay off.
That’s what happens when tough, talented and dedicated workers are given a fair chance on a level playing field.