UAW women know the power of a union helps them
Tina Kollek works hard. The 45-year-old Local 651 member has been a parts handler at General Motors’ Davison Road Processing Center in Burton, Michigan, near Flint, for almost 10 years. The job has allowed Kollek to provide for her family as the single mother of three children.
Kollek has a lot on her mind as she works. She thinks about what awaits her the minute she gets home, where her “second shift” of housework will begin.
Her days repeat like this, starting at 5:30 a.m. until she falls into bed, exhausted.
And she thinks about her children, especially her daughter Cynthia
Cynthia was born with Down Syndrome. As the years progressed, more and more major medical complications arose, including diabetes. Cynthia required intensive personal care, including many doctor visits. Diabetes complications affected Cynthia’s kidneys, and eventually blinded her. She needed dialysis treatment three times a week, requiring Kollek to rush from work so she could sit with Cynthia, comfort her, take her home, then rush to the grocery store, maybe run an errand, then return home and squeeze in housework.
Working women need unions
Kollek’s story isn’t uncommon among UAW women. Balancing a job, taking care of family, running a household and handling other duties means women have to multitask. Whether it is a single mother or father or a grandparent juggling work and life, the caregiver often has little time to address their own needs. UAW members who work and raise a family know that union support makes a huge positive difference.
UAW President Dennis Williams knows being a UAW member means having a job with pay and benefits that provides for a family’s needs. “Health care, sick time, prescription coverage, family leave: These are all things that parents, including mothers, need to protect and raise a healthy family. Union jobs have those benefits because they’re negotiated through collective bargaining. That’s the power of solidarity and collective action for union members,” said Williams.
UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who leads the UAW’s Women’s Department, knows all working mothers, especially single mothers, deserve a good union contract to provide for their family and support their children. “The UAW provides the seat at the table to bargain full health care coverage, time off for children’s needs, and many other provisions that relate to caring for a family,” she said. “Mothers trying to balance full-time work and full-time home responsibilities need that contractual support and they also need the solidarity of their union brothers and sisters.”
She works hard for the money, with little sleep
Shauna Lewis, 41, has lived in Ypsilanti, Michigan, about 35 miles west of Detroit, her entire life. Since 2007, the Local 900 member has worked in the bodyand stamping department of Ford Motor Co.’s Michigan Assembly plant in nearby Wayne. Lewis is a team leader on the first shift which, at Ford, is the midnight shift. In the middle of the night when most people are fast asleep, she’s in the heart of her workday that starts at 11 p.m.
Lewis workday ends at 7 a.m., but that time also marks the beginning of her daily routine of caring for her infant son Dallas. She has two other sons, Darrius, 21, and DeShaun, 19, who are in college or work full time.
Lewis picks up Dallas from her parents’ house and heads to her own home where she feeds him, gets in some play time, and puts him down to sleep around 8 or 8:30. Over the next several hours, Lewis does some housework and tries to rest for an hour or so, sometimes unsuccessfully. Some afternoons, Lewis takes Dallas with her to union meetings and shoots for one last nap before it’s time for the next day of work.
Being a UAW member, Lewis said, makes it possible to take the time she needs to make sure her baby and her older sons are getting the medical and personal attention they need.
On a good day she gets seven hours of interrupted sleep, but that’s rare.
Being a UAW member, Lewis said, makes it possible to take the time she needs to make sure her baby and her older sons are getting the medical and personal attention they need. Lewis is often tired. But it’s all worth it to “see Dallas growing up in these early years.”
‘I cried every day’
“Thank God we’re UAW members because nonunion families don’t get the benefits we have,” said Kim Gomillion, 44, a hi-lo driver at GM’s Pontiac, Michigan, Metal Center.
The Local 653 member said, “The hours, the helpful information, the family time I need off, the (unpaid) leave, just everything that we get is important. Many younger workers have never belonged to a union and don’t understand the sacrifices that got them those benefits, like the insurance they don’t have to pay for, for example. And my union seniority allows me to stay on the day schedule, which makes all the difference in being with my daughter and my family.”
Kim and her husband, Roy, live in Sterling Heights with their 15-year-old daughter, Faith. On most days they work the same shift: 6 a.m. to about 2 p.m.
But Gomillion didn’t always have a husband’s help at home. In 2001, she was a newly divorced parent of Faith, then an infant
and her pre-adolescent son Dion, working 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. as a Local 662 member at auto parts supplier Delphi Corp., in Anderson, Indiana. For a year, Gomillion worked that shift on little sleep. “In the evening, I would take my kids to my sister’s and they would spend the night there. From there, I would go to work until 7 a.m., then pick up my kids, drop the baby off at another sitter’s house and take my son to school. I would go home and be in bed by 10 a.m., sleep for maybe four hours, pick up my daughter from the sitter at 2 p.m., and my son would come home at about 4 p.m.,” Gomillion said.
“I felt like a zombie all the time, not getting enough sleep,” she added. “When my son got home I would make dinner, help him with homework, make sure the kids got bathed, then put them down to sleep. As soon as they fell asleep, usually around 8 or 9, I would pack them up, and then drive them back to my sister’s to stay overnight, and then I would go to work and start all over again.
“Thanks to my UAW local at Delphi, I had access to good information about 24-hour day care providers and help in other areas of my life, including excellent health care coverage that a nonunion employer might not provide.”
In 2002, Gomillion started work at General Motors Corp.’s Fort Wayne Truck Assembly Plant in Roanoke, Indiana, and needed a new babysitter for her children.
“My new UAW Local, 2209, gave me a list of sitters in the area and I started looking. But until I found one, I had to be 130 miles away from my daughter for two weeks and my son until June. I cried every day. It was horrible. So, in addition to my work schedule and looking for a sitter, I made the round-trip journey from Ft. Wayne to Indianapolis two or three times a week. I’m glad those days are over,” said Gomillion. But she had new troubles as a single parent, and it was with both kids.
“My son was rebellious, acting out in school. I was 130 miles away until June,” Gomillion recalled. “When school ended in June, he came to live with me, but he missed his friends. After 3:45 p.m. each day, I left for work and took my daughter to the babysitter. I was worried about my daughter being with a new sitter I didn’t have experience with.” Gomillion found comfort with co-workers in her local union, many in similar situations. “One of the women at work, her older daughter went to the same baby sitter as Faith, so I knew her daughter would keep an eye on Faith. Her mother and I worked the same shift, doing the same thing. We were on the same schedule, and we leaned on each other.” Gomillion later met her future husband, Roy, and by 2012 they were married, working at GM in Pontiac, and living about 15 miles away.
Roy also knows the challenges of balancing work and home. Before he met Gomillion, he said, “My son was living with his mother and because of my work hours I wasn’t able to attend his extracurricular activities. For 16 years, I would rush to pick him up from school, drop him off at his mother’s house and be at work on time. It was a struggle working and having a young son because I worked overtime all my career. I’m at least happy I had good UAW medical coverage to help with raising him.”
Making history in Kansas City
Kenya Darden, a 42-year- old single mother, is the first African-American woman to complete the skilled trades apprenticeship program at GM’s Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas City, Kansas. And being a single mother, Darden’s achievement wasn’t easy. The Local 31 maintenance electrician started work at Fairfax in 1999, and began the apprenticeship program in 2002. Five years later she was a journeyman electrician.
Those five years were tough. Darden’s workday as an apprentice started at 6 a.m. and lasted until 2:30
p.m., followed by class until early evening. In 2005, she became pregnant, and life got even more challenging. Darden had a difficult pregnancy and had to go on sick leave. Shortly after her son, Kameron, was born in 2006, Darden got into a car accident with her mother and baby in the car. Her mother and the baby weren’t hurt, but Darden was seriously injured and had to spend months recovering from her injuries after hospitalization.
“My mother would put my son on my chest so I could nurse,” Darden remembered. “It hurt that I couldn’t touch my son, sit up and hold him. I cried, but I thanked God I was alive and that I could see him.”
Eventually, Darden recovered and returned to work in late 2006 to continue her apprenticeship on the day shift. As is often the case with single parents, a relative, often a grandparent, steps in to help. That was the case with Darden. Her mother watched Kameron while she worked. When Darden’s shift switched to afternoons, 3 p.m. to midnight, her mother changed her schedule to accommodate Darden’s child care needs, and this time her brother and father also helped watch Kameron while she worked. Kenya’s schedule changed again as she continued juggling work, child care, nursing and trying to get a few hours of sleep.
She couldn’t do it all without the benefits she gets as a UAW member, especially the sick leave time and health insurance for her and her children.
During this time, Darden became a team leader at work, which was unusual for a woman who had just become a journeyman. Darden said the added responsibilities increased her work stress, but she was determined to continue and do a good job as a worker and as a single mother who was still nursing her son.
“I had an electric pump, and at work I would spend less than 10 minutes each time going in the bathroom twice a day to get my milk. Because I’m skilled trades I’m not tied to the line, so it was easier for me to step away for 10 minutes. I would nurse before work, and nurse again when I got home.”
In 2010, Darden was expecting a second child and had another difficult pregnancy with severe complications and lots of time in the hospital. In March 2011, her daughter Kayla was born. Now, a single mother of a newborn and a 5-year-old son, Darden was nursing her new daughter while she worked second shift, and managing the arrangements at work to make sure she could use her pump and continue her nursing program with her new baby — an issue only women who are new mothers have to face in the workplace.
In 2013, Darden’s father died, and she was responsible for all of the juggling. “I got through all of these challenges through the grace of God and the UAW,” she said.
She knows couldn’t have done it without the benefits she gets as a UAW member, especially the sick leave and health insurance for her and her children. And the support Darden gets from her local union solidarity sustains her at work and at home. “It’s solidarity all the way,” she said.
She’s a grandmother, but mothering isn’t over
Some mothers with grown children find themselves doing the child rearing all over again, stepping in for the parents to raise their grandchildren.
Kim Shavers, 53, is a member of Local 900 and has worked at various Ford plants, including Ford Integral Stamping & Assembly Plant, Flat Rock Assembly, Dearborn Truck and now at Michigan Assembly, where she works afternoons four days a week 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Shavers is a breast cancer survivor. She went through chemotherapy and had her right breast removed, returning to full employment in 2007.
She has two children, daughter Philura and son Aaron. When Shavers was abe to return to work, Philura was in college and her son was in high school. Her brother’s high-school-aged son, Jacquais, was also living with her.
“I would get off work at 5 a.m., get home at 6:15, shower, sleep for a couple hours, get up around 11:30 a.m. or noon, fix dinner for my son, then leave the house at 4 p.m. to get to work at 6 p.m. On a good day I would get maybe five hours of sleep,” said Shavers.
While her son was in high school, and then in college, she and her brother would rotate traveling to every one of his games on weekends, with her leaving as soon as her work shift ended at 5 a.m. Saturday.
The work and home balance was overwhelming at times. But now that her children are older, and she has a grandchild, Shavers said it was worth it.
In 2009, Shavers’ daughter moved back home and gave birth to daughter, Kendall. For almost a year, Shavers worked full time and supported her son, nephew, daughter and new baby granddaughter. When her daughter returned to Michigan State University with her newborn, Shavers started drive from Detroit to East Lansing on the weekend to help her daughter with the baby.
“Sometimes I would crash,” said Shavers. “And ever since chemotherapy, I get bad migraines if I don’t get enough sleep. Still, I have perfect attendance at Ford and have never called in sick, even with those migraines.”
Shavers appreciates the help from her UAW local. “If I needed time off, my committeeman was really good, and my team leader was helpful when I had migraines; my family’s medical needs were taken care of. I am so glad I was a union member during those really hard times,” said Shavers. “My union sisters and brothers have my back. There’s solidarity at work.”
Balancing work and home was overwhelming at times. But now that her children are older, and she has a grandchild, Shavers said the struggles were worth it. She did what many working mothers and grandmothers do. “I sacrificed my life for theirs. Games, spelling bees, swimming, athletics: I made them participate in activities because they didn’t ask to be here and I didn’t want the streets of Detroit to get my boys after school. I made sure they had positive male role models, mainly with coaches, in their lives. Some days I just couldn’t see straight, but, as a woman, I had to be hands on. If I was man, maybe I might have looked for other women to help me. Women do what needs to be done,” she said.
This summer, Shavers is taking her first real vacation — a Caribbean cruise, paid by her grateful children. It’s a trip all hard working mothers and grandmothers deserve.
Invaluable support from her UAW sisters and brothers
Today, Tina Kollek still worries as she works wrapping car parts. But now, the Local 651 member returns home to a dark and empty house, where her worry is replaced by sadness. That’s because her daughter, Cynthia, died June 10, 2015, at age 27.
The same support system of UAW brothers and sisters that helped Kolleck during the many years she juggled the stress of work and handling Cynthia’s serious medical problems and hospitalizations now sustains her in her time of grief.
“Cynthia had heart failure, was on a breathing machine, had to be fed through a tube, then had a stroke and was comatose until she died,” said Kollek. “I had to take a lot of time off through FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act).”
Local 651 made sure Kollek got the leave she needed and held fundraisers, collecting more than $13,000 to help her pay household bills and funeral expenses. The local also tried to make her work shift as flexible as possible to accommodate her home needs and personal time right after Cynthia died. Members even contributed items for a memorial garden for Cynthia that’s in Kollek’s front yard.
“If I had a nonunion job, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my job while Cynthia was alive because I wouldn’t have had the support of the UAW.” ■
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