By Jeff Gilbert

DETROIT (WWJ) – Leadership, organizing and dues are high on the minds of delegates meeting in Detroit for the first day of the UAW’s Constitutional Convention.

“Dues increase is a big issue,” says J.D. Zimmerman of UAW Local 974 in Peoria, Illinois.    “We want to get the information on that.  And building solidarity.  Those are my issues.”

The union leadership is pushing for the first dues increase in nearly forty years, to replenish the UAW’s strike fund, as they head into contract talks with the Detroit Three automakers next year.

While UAW President Bob King has pushed hard for the dues increase, Larry Cooper of Local 211 in Defiance, Ohio, says that push hasn’t created a lot of support on the shop floor.

“I think most of the members I’ve talked to are pretty much against it, because I think there’s other ways they could possibly do something else other than raising our dues.”

Cooper, who said he’s officially uncommitted on the dues issue, says workers are also interested in learning what’s being done about the two tier pay system, that pays newer workers roughly half of what veteran workers earn.

“It’s a big issue, because a lot are wanting to know how can we get to the top tier, and when that’s going to be possible,” he said.  “Hopefully, with the next contract, something like that can be done.”

King, meanwhile, says the best way to win gains at the bargaining table is by organizing.  He tells delegates that if all of the major auto companies–including foreign owned ones—were organized by the UAW, no company would be at a disadvantage.

“Power is the only way that we’re going to deliver the justice that our members deserve,” said King.  “Our job is to build that power every day.”

The convention comes just a few months after the UAW suffered a stinging loss in an organizing election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The union had counted on a victory in that election to help them in the drive to organize more foreign-owned plants in the south.

“That victory was stolen from us by those that opposed us,” said UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel.   “They did it with money.  They didn’t do it the right way.”

Groups that oppose the UAW said they were just exercising their free speech rights.

The union recently dropping its challenge to those election results.   But, Frank Patta, who leads the Works Council at Volkswagen’s European plants said he was encouraged by the closeness of the election–a slim 44 vote margin.

“We lost one battle, but we did not lose the entire fight,” he said.  “But, we will not be beaten.  I promise you, and I promised to the colleagues in Chattanooga, we will go on.”

The primary business of the convention is to elect a new UAW President to replace the retiring Bob King.  The job is expected to go to Dennis Williams, currently UAW Secretary-Treasurer.

“He’s always preached from day one, organize organize, giving people the rights they deserve.”  said Bob Theuninck, who’s local 1948 in East Moline, Illinois, was organized by Williams.   “My plant was a plant that deserved unions.”

Williams first big job will be to negotiate a new contract with the domestic three carmakers next year.  Outgoing UAW President Bob King says in the last set of talks — 2011 — they put a priority on creating jobs.

With nearly 30,000 new jobs, and three profitable carmakers, King says that puts the UAW in a good position going into the 2015 talks.

“When you all go into bargaining in 2015 and 2016, you’re gonna have more power because of what you did in 2010, 2011 and 2012.”

In local politics, the UAW supported unsuccessful Detroit Mayoral Candidate Benny Napoleon, but welcomed new Mayor Mike Duggan to the convention.

Duggan said the Detroit Bankruptcy has created a lot of anxiety in the city.  But, he also told the union delegates that there is also a lot of hope.

“The people of this city watched what you did, what the auto industry did,” said Duggan.  “We thought bankruptcy was the end of the world.  We watched with awe as to how quickly the auto industry came back strong.”


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