Change Is Imminent
Approximately nineteen thousand of GM’s thirty four thousand UAW represented autoworkers decided to take advantage of the latest round of attrition packages. This is the third attrition package since my Baltimore assembly plant closed in May of 2005. With each attrition package GM sweetened the pot with more money to entice eligible employees to retire, leave with a grow-in retirement package, or take a lump sum payment and sever all ties to the corporation.
GM’s goal is to reduce its $28.00 an hour unionized workforce, including those collecting 85% of their pay in Jobs Bank status, so it can backfill vacancies with new hires at a reduced rate of between $14.00 and $18.00 an hour. The second tier wage scale is primarily targeted at entry level employees in non-core jobs like sanitation, material handling and subassembly, but we all know the first time GM has a manpower problem on the assembly line, it will place non-core employees on assembly line jobs and thereby set precedence for a wall to wall second tier wage scale for all core jobs as well.
UAW and GM negotiators agreed to create a second tier pay scale during 2007 National Agreement negotiations. There are those of us who don’t believe for a nanosecond that negotiators on either side did not foresee wall to wall second tier pay scales eventually eliminating first tier $28.00 an hour workers by the end of this, or the next National Agreement, be it through additional attrition packages or sell-out agreements like those at Delphi and American Axel Manufacturing which saw workers wages reduced by $10.00 an hour, health care benefits slashed and Corporate paid pensions eliminated.
International negotiators, President Gettelfinger, claim the membership ratified the Agreement after what many believe was a Joint GM/UAW choreographed two day Hollywood strike so remaining $28.00 an hour workers will have no one to blame but themselves when they too are sold-out or Delphied. But truth be told, ratification results will never truly be known because Local and International Agreements cannot be challenged by a membership that’s been gradually rendered insignificant by International Executive Board members who have more in common with liars, thieves, thugs and punks than actual labor leaders.
Until the membership rises up and overthrows the UAW’s IEB Traitors who’ve hijacked our union’s democracy, formed Joint Partnerships with the Corporations and thereby sold us out, we have no choice but to soldier on and deal with our ever changing work environment on a daily bases. With the latest round of attrition packages eliminating thousands of first tier workers, four hundred plus in my Wilmington plant, we can expect working conditions to take a dramatic turn for the worse in the months ahead for those who were eligible to take a grow-in or retirement package, but for personal reasons, chose to continue working.
Roughly a third of Wilmington’s production workforce was laid off in March when third shift was eliminated due to slumping sales of the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky roadsters, but because of the mass exodus expected by June 30th, when most attrition packages became effective, everyone on lay-off has been called back. That’s when anxiety and frustration reared their ugly heads. One of the main reasons for belonging to a union is seniority. Seniority gives us clout. We use it so get the shift we want or a better job, but when Mgt places returning low seniority members on preferred jobs without regard for senior members, and Union Reps turn a blind eye, one begins to wonder why we even have a union.
The majority of those who opted out of the grow-in and retirement packages are on jobs that should be given to returning lower seniority members. When we were hired in the seventies and early eighties we were placed on hard jobs and undesirable shifts so senior members could transfer to desired shifts and easier jobs, which is the way it should be. Today; however, the work environment in the auto industry is a totally different animal thanks to the Partnerships. Mgt places members wherever it wants and Reps defend Mgt’s actions by claiming they reserve the right to place members, or the open job is filled via a secondary move and therefore not available, etc, etc, etc; that is if and when you can get a Rep to address your complaint.
It’s frustrating to see lesser seniority members on easier jobs reading newspapers and novels between jobs while seniors are busting their butts’ day in and day out and barely have time to get a drink of water. To make matters worse, some lesser seniority members exploit their good fortune by whooping and hollering, playing catch with balled up gloves, making loud cat calls, banging or just being a general nuisance. All of which are against plant rules, but tolerated by Mgt and Union Reps because they add to the anxiety and frustration levels that feeds the apathy and sense of helplessness seniors have gradually become accustom too since the Partnerships, and younger members are thus far oblivious too.
In a recent letter from the UAW Public Review Board relating to a pending Appeal, the PRB wrote that GM claims one of my Disgruntled Autoworker Newsletters, “had the potential to create a hostile work environment and threatened the efficient operation of their facility. The Company further contended that the newsletter was an attempt to polarize the workforce by creating a division between employees recently transferred from closed facilities and long time Wilmington Assembly employees.”
The above statement is entirely false. The reality is the hostile work environment was created over twenty five years ago when the IEB formed its Joint Partnerships with the Corporations. The Partnership’s intent is to polarize the workforce by creating different classes of workers. The grunts, or the average worker; the privileged, those who were placed on good jobs because of nepotism, favoritism or cronyism; and the Yum Yums, those appointed to staff the growing number of Joint Union/Corporate positions simply because they’re relatives of a union official or someone in Mgt, or they have connections to same, or they kiss up, suck up, stroke, sleep with, and/or do whatever to/for union officials and/or Mgt to get one of those coveted Joint positions.
Wilmington’s Mgt and Local Union Reps are also contributing to hostilities by treating recently transferred employees or gypsies, especially those forced from Baltimore, like red headed step children compared to native employees. So now we have three classes of workers; the grunts, the privileged and the Yum yums; and then mix in the gypsies who are also made up of these three classes and you have a hostile work environment where animosity, resentment and hatred run rampant. An environment that is exploited by the Partners to polarize the workforce and thereby keep us at each others throats as opposed to theirs, the perfect ingredients to feed the instilled apathy that also runs rampant.
It is lower seniority members, or Newbies, who seem to be oblivious to the explosive environment the Partners have created around them, or they’re ignoring it. What Newbies don’t realize, or don’t care about is that when the majority of the first tier workers are attritioned out and second tier workers gradually become the majority, hence replacing the privileged and Yum yums too, they’ll become the grunts and thereby on the receiving end of hostilities. When this scenario becomes reality in the not too distant future and Newbies are Delphied; forced to give up $10.00 an hour, benefits slashed and pensions eliminated, it will be interesting to see how they handle the whooping, hollering and carrying on that they so enjoyed in their day.
If it sounds like I might enjoy the above scenario where turn around is fair play and Newbies are treated the way seniors are today, I wouldn’t, because it’s not their fault. It is the GM/UAW Partners fault for polarizing the workforce for their own ill gotten gains; however, I would really enjoy seeing some of today’s privileged and Yum yum members put on jobs that would subject them to carpel tunnel syndrome or some of the other physical and mental stresses the rest of us grunt’s endured over the years.
If I seem bitter, I am, because it wasn’t supposed to be this way when I applied at GM and joined the UAW. My plan was to be like those who trained me on my first grunt job; work hard, keep my nose clean, pay union dues and slowly move up the ladder to easier jobs so I could coast into retirement. Instead the Partners have us working our butts off our entire careers so as to force us out early or to make attrition packages more enticing. Which brings me back to an earlier sentiment, why do we even have a union.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-union, far from it. I whole heartedly believe we need unions to fight for worker’s rights in the work place and the people’s rights in society; however, we also need unions that are of, by and for their memberships’, not unions whose democracies were hijacked by liars, thieves, thugs and punks and turned into dictatorships and theocracies whose self appointed leader’s prime objectives are to preserve their own existence, while at the same time sacrificing members by the tens of thousands, and remaining member’s dignity and respect in the name of Corporate profits and greed. If we, the membership, don’t find a way to overthrow the Gettelfingers of our unions and restore true bottom up democracy, then changes for the worse in both our work and social environments are imminent.
In Solidarity, Doug Hanscom