If the Wilmington, Delaware GM assembly plant were my home plant, my thirty two years of seniority would qualify me for a coordinator job, which is more of a junior management position than a union job, so being a staunch union man, I would much rather be an inspector or repairman, but since I’m a Gypsy, I don’t have enough local seniority to qualify for any of the above. Prior to losing third shift in March of 08, the vast majority of my coworkers were Gypsies too; we transferred here from shuttered plants from Baltimore to Van Nuys and from Detroit to Shreveport.
The advantage to being a Gypsy is we can transfer to another plant and thereby build corporate seniority to qualify for a thirty year pension. I’ve had to transfer from Bristol, CT to Framingham, MA to Baltimore and now Wilmington to get my thirty years. All my previous plants were closed and there’s a cloud of uncertainty hanging over this one. Rumors about Baltimore getting a new product persisted even while cranes and bulldozers were moving in for the kill. According to Gypsies, the same rumors persisted at most of their plants too. While we try to be optimistic about this plant’s future, rumors of it getting a new product and its closing are flying fast and furious. It’s a nerve wracking wait and see dilemma.
A disadvantage to being a Gypsy is we can’t use our corporate seniority in another plant. For some unknown reason, those in charge of the UAW back in the early eighties, when transfers became the norm, chose a seniority date of January 7, 1985 for those who transferred from one plant to another. If you had thirty years of corporate seniority and transferred to Wilmington for example, you’d only have twentyfour years of local seniority. You’d still qualify for a pension, but Native (local) employees with a 01.06.85 seniority date would have job and shift preference, and you’d be laid off first.
According to internet rumors, the 01.07.85 date was chosen by then UAW International President Owen Bieber so Gypsies wouldn’t bump his siblings down the plant’s local seniority list. This is very likely scenario considering the preferential treatment given to International and Local Union Rep’s children, friends and Yum yums. The practice of dual seniority is an issue that needs to be addressed by the International union because it discriminates against senior members, especially now days with Gypsy’s becoming the majority in many plants. Odds are the International will maintain the status quo.
There have always been stigmas attached to being Gypsies; one is we are viewed as outsiders who are responsible for closing our plants. It was during our indoctrination into the Wilmington plant when a union appointee said our work ethics closed our plants. I wasn’t surprised by his accusation because I’ve heard it before in Framingham and Baltimore. I thought about telling the Yum yum to point the finger of blame at Mgt and their union lapdogs, but like the appointees in my previous plants, they had their heads shoved firmly up Mgt and union reps butts so many times they had permanent brown rings around their necks and crap packed in their ears, so I knew it would be a waste of time.
Most Gypsies have worked in two or more plants and end up moving on to the next open plant, hoping it will be the one where they get that elusive pension. Over time many of us have been accused of carrying the Gypsy’s curse. Again, it was a Wilmington Yum yum who said, “I hope you didn’t bring the Gypsy’s curse that closes our plant too.” I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Time will tell.” What I really wanted to do was shove his head back up the boss’s butt, because I’ve heard from other Gypsies that he’s the Yum yum spreading rumors that the Baltimore Gypsies have bad attitudes and work ethics, but again, I’d be wasting my time because I know he’d feel right at home.
The Yum yum was fanning the flames of discontent the Natives already felt towards Gypsies whom they believe are taking jobs away from their family and friends. When the first wave of Gypsies arrived from Baltimore, they were volunteers on a quest for job security and pensions, and according to them, they were treated like family. The second wave was forced. Maybe some of us have bad attitudes because we were taken out of our Job Bank comfort zones and forced to commute seventy miles to a place we’re not wanted, and without relocation assistance, but we do not have bad work ethics. In fact, it was our work ethics that helped the plant achieve its production goals. It wasn’t long after the second wave arrived when volunteers began to complain that they were being treated like red headed step children. Welcome to our world.
I understand the Native’s attitudes and frustrations towards Gypsies who are displacing their family and friends, but at the same time they too need to understand that we have a right to chase that ever elusive pension just as much as they do, if and when their plant closes. If a few people get laid off in the process, oh well, that’s not our fault; it’s just the nature of the industry anymore, get use to it. So please stop trying to make us feel bad about this one or that one getting laid off because of us, that’s not our problem. Take your complaints to the Team. And stop telling us to retire. Excuse me, but you don’t know what’s going on in our lives, so just keep your opinions to yourself thank you very much.
You’d think, or hope, that Mgt and Union Reps, or the Team, would spend a little time and effort to educate the workforce about the changing industry and the effects those changes will have on the work environment and conditions in our plants, but they don’t. And I believe the reason they don’t is they view the discontent between Natives and Gypsies as another tool for them to exploit as a means to undermine solidarity in the workplace, like they use nepotism and favoritism when choosing who gets to staff the growing number of appointed positions throughout our plants. It’s a never ending scam by the Team to keep us divided and at each others throats. If we’re not getting along, we’re not organizing.
I’ve spent the last nine years educating myself and then my coworkers about the devastating effect the Corporate/UAW Jointness Partnerships are having on our International and Local Unions and on working conditions in our plants. My coworkers and I were on the road to reforming Baltimore’s local union when International reps, Good Ole Boy Tony Soprano wannabes, stepped in and rolled our president. All our hard work was wasted, but the lesson we learned was the UAW International union needs to be reformed before we can even begin to reform our local unions. Then again, reform may not be an option, because internal corruption runs too deep. Decertification or a coup may be our only other options.
With the Big Three auto industry in the ditch because of short sighted decisions by over compensated executives, and the global economy contributing to our woes because of the arrogance ignorance and greed of AIG and Banking industry executives, it is always the blue collar workers who suffer. This is already evident in our plants where senior employees are being bought off with Special Attrition Packages, and cost cutting efforts are causing working conditions to become horrendously worse for those left behind; thereby threatening product quality and the health and wellbeing of employees who are constantly dogged by supervisors too quick to crack the whip for a missed nut or bolt on an overworked job.
The more I think about the above and my thirty two year career as an autoworker, the more convinced I am that staying any longer would be detrimental to my health and state of mind. I will not let the Team inflict any more damage to my already battered and bruised body. If conditions were the same as they were in 1976 and I could advance up the seniority ladder to an easier or more preferred job, I’d stick around until I had thirty five years and retire a bit more comfortably than if I retired now. However, I no longer want to be a member of a Team that allows local seniority and nepotism and favoritism to supersede my thirty two years of union and corporate dedication and loyalty.
I want to thank my coworkers and those who supported me and helped me circulate my Disgruntled Autoworker newsletters over the years. We should all feel good knowing we gave Mgt and their Good Ole Boy lapdogs and Yum yums one hell of a fight. Personally, if I had it to do over again, the one thing I’d do differently is I would have gotten involved in the union right from the beginning; sage advice to those who belong to a union or want to join a union.
While I may be retiring from GM’s work environment, I will not be retiring from the new labor wars that I believe are brewing just beneath, or because of, this choreographed economic crisis. I want to play a role in the next generation’s battle to oust today’s corporate whore labor leaders and traitors of the people and help them reclaim the American labor movement. Viva La Revolution!
In Solidarity, Doug Hanscom, Retired
Soldiers Of Solidarity