The following is a letter in the LaborUnionReport.com inbox received over the weekend [name withheld]:
To Whom It May Concern,
I’ve recently read some of your coverage of the UAW lose/debacle in Tennessee. While I am a UAW member and believe unions can do good and are quite often necessary, I have the same feeling about unions I have about religion and political ideologies. They are frequently better in theory and on paper than in practice.
Given recent events in our Region I am having those feelings more often and stronger then I have had in the past.
One thing I don’t see being discussed or exposed is the UAW’s hypocritical behaviors regarding claims of it being a “democratic” union.
As a member and former officer I have been appalled by the lack of democratic process and the political backstabbing of members and even Local officers who have dared to disagree with the “leadership” at the Regional or International level.
“Leadership” who have never had to run in an open, honest and fair election themselves. On this issue the UAW “administrative caucus” is a joke. The “caucus” preordains who can “run” and who will be coronated, I mean “elected”. Just as Dennis Williams has already been selected and handed the mantel of the UAW International for all intents and purposes.
The Regional Directors pick/appoint their Assistant Regional Director who usually inherit the Director’s position. The Directors have the power to make “appointments” which should really be hires based on skill, experience and service rather than an expectation of fealty and obedience to the Regional Director.
Of course they are still supposed to at least appoint from the “membership” as the UAW Constitution requires that anyone hired be a member in good standing for at least 1 year. That “requirement ” is flaunted and often ignored so that members who have worked their way up and often dedicated countless hours to their union often for free as volunteers are overlooked for a patronage hire or in some cases nepotistic hire. (Our assistant Regional Director’s wife was hired as an organizer for example)
Additionally, the Regional Director can effectively banish someone from the Region and in our Region we have had some of our best staff sent far away to work on campaigns for fear that they might mount a challenge against the Regional Director.
A perfect example of both the UAW’s targeting of “dissidents” and hypocrisy in their actions was readily available during our local elections last May. Early in the campaign it became clear our local president’s opponent was misusing employer and union resources, yet the International Rep assigned from the Region took no action.
The result a woefully inexperienced and totally unprepared Grad student/employee/member “won”. As time went on it has become more evident to many of us that the Regional Director had most likely been improperly supporting her from the start.
In response the president Ron Patenaude filed an internal election challenge based on about a dozen suspected violations of election rules of not just the UAW itself, but also the Department of Labor/Office of Labor Management Standards which is supposed to oversee and “enforce” the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.
The LMRDA is basically a joke overseen by the DOL/OLMS which has few powers of enforcement and usually little desire to do so anyway or interfere with the union’s “self-governance”. So the union’s are left to selectively enforce their own rules, or not.
In this case that is exactly what they didn’t do. A timeline and documents are available on Patenaude’s website at www.ron4uaw2322.org, but in a nutshell the UAW failed to respond within the prescribed timelines of the DOL/OLMS regulations, so Patenaude and another challenger filed their complaint with the DOL/OLMS who also dragged their feet and took far longer then their own requirements dictate.
In the end the DOL/OLMS “preliminary findings” were issued in September 2013 and found 4 election violations, 3 directly citing the “winner” and her campaign.
It should be noted that the UAW International President’s office supplied a letter to the Region who provided it to the seated president claiming Patenaude had violated the UAW Constitution’s “requirement” that a member “exhaust” the internal process, even though the LMRDA allows a union member to file with that agency if the internal process has not resulted in a “final decision” within 3 months. The reason for this was in many members view that it was an effort by the Region and International to paint Patenaude in a bad light in the event that another election was “ordered”. (DOL/OLMS doesn’t “order” they negotiate an agreement. If they can not reach an agreement they can sue to enforce, but rarely do.)
The next step was for the OLMS to turn those findings over to the Division of Enforcement which is supposed to issue the final report, but the DOL/OLMS/DOE once again dragged its feet failing to provide its final findings and decision even by the date it “guaranteed” it would (December 6, 2013) that decision was not sent until January 14, 2014.
When it finally did however they decided the violations did not warrant vacating the election and ordering a new election. They did not however provide the “statement of reasons” which would be necessary to determine if further action was viable. “Further action” being limited to suing the DOL in Federal Court, not a small or cheap undertaking and one that the whole cost has to be borne by the member filing such suit.
The LRMDA has a “Union Members’ Bill of Right’s” which sounds great until you realize that the OLMS has no enforcement powers over that. A union member may be able to bring legal action (totally own their own), but unlike the NLRB’s providing legal representation and enforcement the OLMS does no such thing.
I just received the “statement of reasons” which Patenaude has sent out earlier today after having just received it himself today. It basically discounted many statements against the seated president instead deciding to accept her supporters’ claims instead.
The UAW has still not addressed the issue now that the DOL has ruled and the ball is back in the UAW’s court after having put their “investigation” into abeyance when the challenge was filed with the DOL.
So Bob King demanding the NLRB address the UAW election complaints on the VW election in a timely and prompt manner flies in the face of his own and the UAW actions regarding an election challenge in a local his office had oversight of.
Additionally, it has been the opinion of many of us in the membership that this has been done in an effort to remove Patenaude not just from his leadership position, but from the union he spent 15 years helping not just survive, but grow in spite of a lack of support from the Region or International.
It has been an incredible disservice to our membership who are receiving no services from the seated president due we believe not just to her lack of skills and experience, but also in retaliation to those of us who supported Patenaude. The UAW constitution dictates the “winner” will be seated pending a challenge so we have been saddled with her.
Many local union stewards and activists have come under fire from the management at their work sites and are getting little or no assistance from the local.
It is quite clear to many of us that the Region wanted to install someone who would not rock the boat and do as they were told. The outcome has been disastrous for our membership and the stalling and delays by the UAW have created a terrible injustice not just to Patenaude, but to the rest of the membership who are not being served. The actions of the UAW have also been the polar opposite of any real democratic process or the values of trade unionism that King and Williams give lip service to.
The upcoming convention/election later this spring will be nothing more than a dog and pony show intended to mollify and give the appearance to the delegates that they have some say. They don’t.
Delegates will be chosen for their fealty and allegiance to their Regional Directors, just as Local union officers often are. As previously described it became apparent early in the course of our local election last May that the local president’s opponent was misusing employer and union resources, yet the International Rep assigned from the Region took no action.
As president Patenaude had made no bones about his distaste for the Regional leadership trying to interfere in local matters and the failures by the Region to provide assistance in negotiations or other services our local had been provided under previous administrations. As we send almost half of our dues to Detroit, part of which is to go towards providing support to the Locals it seems only right to provide the membership something for those monies.
This situation has materialized in large part due to the new Director being loathed by senior staff who all bailed when given the opportunity of early retirement offers and such which were part of an effort to cut costs under Int. President Gettlefinger during and in the aftermath of the auto industry crisis and subsequent loss of tens of thousands of UAW members and that dues income.
It is also rumored that changes to provisions of the UAW Staff Union’s pay and benefits have been abandoned after the Staff Union filed a grievance when they became aware that the staff at the International was not being subject to the same agreed cuts and such that the Staff Council was being subject to.
Basically under the negotiated agreement new UAW International Reps would have the starting salary reduced from $90K or so to $70K and instead of being brought up to the top of scale of $95K or so in a year or two it would take them 5 or 6 years to reach the top of the pay scale.
So purportedly the UAW International settled the grievance by removing the new steps resulting in some Int. Reps receiving pay increases of thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars while the rank and file in many shops have been forced to take wage freezes and in some cases of reductions of wages and benefits.
Unfortunately while the UAW may be able to lay claim to its top officers making some of the “lowest” salaries of any large union, they have basically hired the International back into the red and now are looking for a dues increase.
Almost half of our local dues are sent as tribute to Detroit with 30%? going to the “strike fund” and the rest to general fund. In exchange we are supposed to be provided with services including those of an International Serving Rep who is supposed to be more experienced and skilled then Local staff and leadership who are from the rank and file and not always as skilled as one might like.
The Service Reps are supposed to be hired from the membership as previously described ,instead the current director has hired people not based on their experience or skills, but more for whether they will support and agree with her without question. She has also failed to hire any men, instead hiring almost exclusively women. (She hired two young men, one who was her son’s best friend and the other afriend of one of her staff we believe.)
She has also replaced the 8 or 10 retired Service Reps in our Region with individuals who have no experience in the areas required of an International Rep such as contract bargaining and representational duties such as grievance and arbitration handling. Instead hiring individuals to “organize” the results of which have been underwhelming.
Reading some of the information on the no2uaw.org site it was shocking to see accusations of behavior and “tactics” being used at the VW plant as had been used in our Region to disastrous results in a campaign run by the Region to organize the Post Docs in the UMass University system. Many of the Post Docs claimed to have been told they were signing a card was only to gauge interest, it didn’t mean they were joining the UAW and that there would be an election even though Massachusetts has card check recognition for State employees which the UMass Post Docs are considered.
Some organizers even told those they were trying to organizing that even if they signed a card they could be “agency fee payers” if the union came in which would allow them to pay a reduced dues amount.
The result was that the campaign imploded at the largest site the UMass Medical Campus in Worcester where the organizers were angrily told by dozens of Post Docs they wanted their cards back as they felt they have been deceived. In the end they were only able to organize perhaps 300 Post Docs across the system. The original claims was that there would be upwards of a thousand Post Docs. That campaign also probably cost the UAW well over $1,000,000 for 300 members.
Not the $8,000 per member think I read was spent in Tennessee, but at over $3,000 a member it is still ridiculous. With those kind of results the UAW wants to raise dues to replenish the strike fund that they have been raiding to fund these debacles?
There was also the recent “news” that NYU was going to allow an election of the Grad employees who had previously lost their right to a union under the “Brown” decision by Bush’s NLRB back in 2005? That campaign had been kept alive thru assigned staff to the tune of an estimated $2 million dollars over the last 7 or 8 years.
The UAW won the election handily by 600 to like 12. Of course there were 1,200 or so eligible voters so while it may have by won by a “majority” only about 50% voting doesn’t sound like they have a majority involved.
Pretty hypocritical to want to raise dues on the many low wage workers in our and other locals to hire and fund very well paid “organizers” whose track record kind of sucks. Last I knew even the “temp” organizers were being paid $1,000 plus expenses weekly.
I think the issues I’ve mentioned and of unions not serving their membership is a serious problem for which there is really no outlet to even have a discussion about or God forbid offer criticism beyond the local at the regional or national level anymore at least within the UAW, I don’t know about other unions, which really is a failure of the democratic principles King and others like to claim is the basis for unionism.
A concerned and fairly disgusted UAW member