Union dissidents speak out
Steve Arnold | The Spec
May 27, 2011
A rebellion against leaders of the United Steelworkers at U.S. Steel has broken into the open.
Dissidents are angry because Local 1005 president Rolf Gerstenberger is refusing to let members vote on a motion to reopen negotiations with the company. They want district or national union officers to step in and hold a secret ballot vote.
There has been an undercurrent of dissent in the union ever since the company locked the gates of the Wilcox Street plant in November, but the unorganized faction has confined itself to speaking at union meetings and through anonymous flyers and Internet postings. Until now, no one has spoken openly.
“I want the negotiating committee to ask members what they want and to take that direction,” said George Hutchinson, who has become the most vocal of the dissidents arguing since November that the union negotiating committee should be ordered to restart talks.
A December motion to do that was overwhelmingly defeated, and a recent effort to reintroduce the topic was ruled out of order by Gerstenberger. A subsequent motion challenging that ruling was overwhelmingly defeated. While both sides claim the support of a silent majority of members, those two votes are the only measures of support so far.
“I just want the members to have a say,” Hutchinson said in an interview. “Whatever 50 per cent plus one of the membership decides I’m willing to accept, but the membership needs to be asked what they want.”
Hutchinson is one of nine union members who contacted The Spectator after the May 18 union meeting. Four of those agreed to have their names published as part of this story, but all say they expect some level of retaliation for speaking out.
“It’s not like they’re smashing your windows or slashing your tires, but you don’t feel safe doing this,” said Brian Walpack.