Opposition to UAW Runaround Wins at NUMMI Auto Plant

by Caroline Lund


Caroline Lund is a trustee of UAW Local 2244 and editor of The Barking Dog newsletter. This article was posted on the web site Labor Tuesday for July 22-29, 2003. It has been edited for Labor Standard.

In recent elections, the membership of United Auto Workers Local 2244 has voted out our longtime Administration Caucus (AC) leadership and brought in a new team of more pro-worker union leaders.

Local 2244 represents the 5,000 workers at New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), which is a joint venture of General Motors and Toyota in Fremont, California.

In general elections on June 11 former Chairman Art Torres and President Tito Sanchez were soundly defeated by Victor Quesada and George Nano III. The opposition forces (United Alliance Caucus) also won 1st and 2nd vice president, 6 of the 12 committeeperson positions, and 9 of the 12 alternate committeeperson slots.

On July 9 an election for bargaining committee and a runoff for 2 of the 3 trustee positions yielded a clean sweep for the opposition. The United Alliance (UA) won the whole bargaining committee and 2 of the 3 trustees. The third trustee is myself, an independent candidate, who received the highest vote in the July 9 election, largely because of my plant newsletter, The Barking Dog, which I have put out for 6 years. The opposition will have a slight majority on the Executive Board.

The major issues in the campaign were outsourcing and the new, stringent attendance policy imposed last year by the company, commonly called “3-in-180.”

The company has outsourced jobs in many areas, and has indicated that more is to come. The Administration Caucus (the political machine loyal to the UAW international leadership) took the stance that outsourcing can’t be stopped without a strike (which they imply is out of the question), and doesn’t really matter as long as overall plant size doesn’t shrink and the UAW gets to organize outsourced work.

The United Alliance and The Barking Dog said we have to forcefully oppose outsourcing even when the numbers involved are small. We said whether the outsourced work is UAW-organized or not, the key thing is that their wages are slashed and we should not accept that. A United Alliance leaflet explained, “We can fight and not win, but we will never win without a fight!”

The new attendance policy says basically you get a write-up if you are absent three times in 180 days (the previous policy was 3 in 90 days). Four write-ups and you are terminated. Each day absent is a point against you, even if you have a doctor’s note (also new).

The Administration Caucus leadership filed a grievance against the unilateral company change of policy and indicated that that was all that could be done. The United Alliance and rank-and-file members from both caucuses circulated a petition against the policy, which was signed by some 1,300 members. Chairman Art Torres ridiculed this petition, calling it “worthless” and “feeble.”

The backdrop for this election campaign was Bush’s war on Iraq. A pro-Administration Caucus flyer said “Newsflash, United Alliance members!! We, as a country, are at war.” It went on: “The Alliance Caucus complained about bad conditions in our plant. Consider the following: with little complaint, thousands of young people have taken on a real dangerous job, one that can cost them their lives…”

The Administration Caucus cosponsored a “Support the Troops Day” with the company. Up in the cafeteria they sang the national anthem, had an “honor guard,” and tried to raise money for care packages for the troops.

The Barking Dog newsletter said the best support for the troops was to bring them home, and explained that the company and union officials “are using sympathy for the troops to try to manipulate us into supporting the war on Iraq, silencing complaints on the shop floor, and prettifying our union officials for the coming union elections.”

One pro-Administration Caucus leaflet had a cartoon showing “Axis of Evil, Inc.,” with leaders of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea sitting around a table, labeled with the names of United Alliance leaders, plus a dog sitting there with them, labeled Barking Dog.

The Administration Caucus election brochure was slick and expensive, showing each candidate in front of a flag and showing firefighters and the slogan “American heroes.”

Another issue during the campaign was the AC leadership’s support for California Governor Gray Davis. In March Davis came to the plant to present management with $6.4 million from the state coffers, supposedly for “training” of us workers during the next major model change. Meanwhile, California faces a huge budget crisis.

After his photo op for the media, Davis planned to walk through the plant, escorted by UAW Chairman and President Torres and Sanchez. But as soon as Davis’s advance people came out to Chassis 2, where the walk-through was supposed to begin, workers began to hoot, boo, and shout questions like, “Why is Davis taking money from schools and giving it to prisons? Why is our college tuition skyrocketing? Why triple our vehicle tax while giving our tax money to a successful corporation like NUMMI?”

Davis’s walk through the plant was cancelled. “The Barking Dog” interviewed the workers in Chassis 2 and featured the incident in its March 31 issue.

Still another issue in the election campaign was heavy-handed intervention by the UAW international in the affairs of the local. An AC leader complained in a flyer that the UA had been critical of our International Rep Earlie Mays. “Why would you bite the hand that feeds you,” asked the (anonymous) AC leader. “If elected, [UA leaders] will have to come to the International Union for assistance…They are fools to think that the International’s memory will be short.”

This is an obvious threat that the newly elected leaders may face reprisals from the International leadership. We, on the other hand, are hoping to work with the International in a relationship of equals, with independence and dignity so as to best represent our membership.