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Rank-and-file UAW leader Gregg Shotwell interview

Slams GM, Chrysler contracts

by staff |
October 29, 2007
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Gregg Shotwell, a key leader of rank-and-file autoworkers was interviewed by Fight Back! shortly before the ratification of the Chrysler contract. The contract at Chrysler passed by a relatively narrow margin following an aggressive campaign by UAW officials.

Fight Back!: It seems like some important locals at Chrysler are rejecting the proposed contract. What are the main issues?

Shotwell: Two tier appears to be the main issue. Union members understand that two tier is "the concession that keeps on giving," as Jerry Tucker used to say. Workers are concerned that eventually everyone's wages will be cut.

The contract calls for "non-core" workers to earn half as much in compensation with no pension and no health care in retirement. The contract does not define what "non-core" means. The union says that they will sit down with management and decide what jobs are "non-core" after the agreement is ratified. This 'after the rat' clause raises suspicion.

We do understand that 'non-core' jobs are basically the preferred jobs; the jobs earned by high seniority that enable one to get off the line and away from repetitive stress.

The establishment of an underclass in the union threatens solidarity in a very pointed way. Senior members will have a target on their backs. Management will have an incentive to get rid of them and new hires will envy their higher wages. No one likes two tier, it's cancerous.

Another important issue is the lack of job security commitments from Chrysler. The Chairman of the National Bargaining Committee, Bill Parker, asserted in his Minority Report that Chrysler will be able to use the 'non-core' item to whipsaw competition between locals precisely because they do not have product commitments from the company.

Finally, the issue of the VEBA which is a trust fund for retiree health care that will be managed by the union. The VEBA is under funded by 45% and will likely lead to higher out of pocket expenses for retirees down the road.

Fight Back!: What effect has the anti-concessions movement in the UAW had on this round of contact negotiations and votes?

Shotwell: Soldiers of Solidarity, which sprang up during the Delphi debacle, has roots in the UAW New Directions Movement of the 1980s, and branches in the generation that takes the internet and the cell phone for granted. SOS sprang out of the Delphi bankruptcy with a simple mantra: Concessions won't save jobs, pensions, benefits and wages. SOS gained notoriety during the Delphi struggle and an extensive network of communication developed.

SOS made actual contract language broadly available to the rank and file for the first time in the history of the UAW. The union published the Highlights, a sort of sales brochure for the contract, and SOS published the Lowlights, which cited actual contract language and page numbers.

SOS posted fliers which were easy to download and print. SOS made a network available to rank-and-file members so they could get accurate information readily and communicate quickly.

The day after Bill Parker distributed his Minority Report to the UAW-Chrysler Council it was on the internet. When a skilled trades committeeman, Shawn Fain, who was present at the meeting in Detroit posted his version of the events along with his challenge to the International, it spread like wildfire.

When the International cut the mic for the rank and file, SOS handed them a megaphone. Now they can't shut up.

Fight Back!: What's wrong with the contract that was ratified at GM and why did autoworkers vote for it?

Shotwell: The contract at GM is wrong for all the same reasons that the Chrysler contract is wrong. Namely, two tier, and a union-controlled, under funded health care VEBA for retirees.

The GM contract like the Chrysler contract rolls back some of the most significant gains the UAW made in collective bargaining: COLA and pensions. Ten cents per quarter will be deducted from cost of living adjustments and pensions are eliminated for new hires.

According to most reports, the contract passed by 66%. But 7% of those who likely voted were temporary workers who were promised permanent positions if the contract was ratified. Without the temp vote, the contract passed by 59%. [Temps at Chrysler were not promised permanent jobs.]

59% is a majority, but not a mandate for two tier, COLA diversions, or an under funded, union controlled VEBA.

I think GM workers were disadvantaged by voting first because that gave them less time to consider the consequences. GM workers also lacked leadership. There was not a Minority Report at GM and only one local union president, Al Benchich, advocated a no vote. And finally, I believe, the demographics at GM and Chrysler had a significant impact. The Chrysler workers are younger and more energetic and they are ready to fight back.