Roy Exum: How The UAW ‘Really’ Works

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The United Auto Workers union put on a textbook show for Chattanooga’s Volkswagen employees of “how it really works” Tuesday afternoon. The union was holding its 36th Constitutional Convention at Detroit’s Cabo Center when finally the subject of the first dues increase since 1967 came up.

The Detroit News reported that 1,100 delegates, considering raising the dues from two hours of monthly pay to two-and-a-half, heard 40 speakers who were evenly divided on the issue and “rejected repeated calls to refer the issue to a referendum of the union’s entire nearly 400,000 members.”

Then, according to the newspaper’s account, here’s what happened: “Some dissenters wanted to call for a roll call vote in which each delegate's vote would be tallied. After a delegate called to end debate, opponents couldn’t get the 307 delegates needed for a roll call vote.”

The next paragraph read, “When a voice vote on the dues increase was too close to call, outgoing president Bob King asked for members to raise their hands. Hands raised in support were far enough ahead of opponents that King didn’t need to count precisely. But there were a significant number of no votes.”

The newspaper said that King argued the dues hike was necessary because the long strike at Caterpillar had cost the union $300 million and that the outgoing chief denied suggestions the union has been “irresponsible” in handling its finances. “We have a common goal,” King told an opposing member, “We have an honest disagreement.”

For the record, a UAW autoworker making $28 an hour will have a monthly dues increase soon of roughly $14, which computes to a yearly increase of $168, making yearly dues a total of $840. The UAW will get $45 million a year as the result.

As you may guess, the dues hike was ill-received by many members who have watched union leaders bleed the strike fund from $900 million to a current $600 million in recent years.

The comments the story generated were telling. Christa Jordan Eberline, a tool & die maker at the Ford plant, wrote, “I’m not shocked but I am disappointed. As a membership we have done nothing but give, give, give. We have lost more in our last three contracts than most people realize. The fact the International can spend our money without our permission is reprehensible at best.

“Now you have over-spent, just like every other corporation, and you turn to the middle class to re-seed an account that should have never been touched. I have been at Ford Motor Company for 17 years and have yet to strike (thankfully) yet my strike fund is depleted!” she wrote.

She added, “I personally would like to see a breakdown of this vote. Who voted for and who voted against! It is my right to know. It’s no different than Congress. If you felt compelled to vote for an increase then stand up and own it. Give me and every others dues paying member a good argument.

“Convince me that next year, when I finally have the right to opt out of the UAW, because I live in a right-to-work state, why I should continue to pay for nothing. Convince me the union is still the way to go. I’ve always been pro union but my current representation is very disappointing.”

Earlier Frank Patta, the general secretary of the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, told those at the Detroit convention he believes efforts to organize a union at the Chattanooga VW Assembly plant will be successful.

“Let me say this to our enemies. We will go on … we will not be beaten,” said Patta, whose brother Sebastian heads the human resources department  at the Chattanooga plant. “We want people to have a say in what happens at their workplace. The rights of our brothers and sisters are trampled!”

Oh, my goodness. Hollywood screen writers can’t make this stuff up. While the Patta brothers will help the UAW in any way they can, I suspect those in Chattanooga are sensing the reasons the pro-union forces at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama just told the UAW to leave.

Then again, if the UAW does insist on another vote after February’s 712-626 verdict turned the union away, let’s do it the Detroit way – all ya’ll just raise your hand.

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