"The Language Isn't Strong Enough"
A Report on the 2007 UAW Bargaining Convention
THE 2007 UAW BARGAINING Convention format was sanitized,
preshrunk, and bleached. The one-size-fits-all style was
designed to control the rancor of the rank and file. But
work to rule is a tool for all trades and a master of one:
tipping the balance of power.
Mike Parker, a delegate from Local 1700, busted the seams
of uniform decorum before Gettelfinger could pound the podium.
When the chair requested a motion to accept the Rules
Committee Report at the start of the convention, Parker
demanded a point of order and made a motion to amend the rules.
The proposed rules restricted delegates from making amendments
to the resolutions; limited debate with tedious time consuming
recitations rather than summaries; and relegated precious
time that should have been allocated to debate to political
dignitaries. Parker's amendment declared:
"The agenda for the Wednesday morning session will be Organizing
to Fight Back. This session will cover how we can mobilize our
members, build solidarity, resist company whipsawing and divisive
strategies like two tier, and pitting older workers against
younger workers. To make time for this session, short
presentation summaries will be used instead of reading the
complete resolution book, and guest speakers will be asked
to keep their comments brief."
Voices from all over the convention floor yelled, "Support".
The Chair attempted to dispose of the point of order, but Parker
stood his ground. Since a motion to accept the rules had not
been approved, there were no rules governing the convention
except Robert's Rules of Parliamentary Procedure. The amendment
was in order, it had been seconded, and was now open for discussion.
"The key to these negotiations is not whether we have a nice wish
list of bargaining demands but how we are going to fight the
companies. The companies have made it clear they are not our
partners and will take everything they can get.
How do we take on their whipsawing?
How do we take on the cancer of Two Tier, this pitting of
older workers against younger workers?
I would point out that I find nothing in this resolution
against Two Tier and indeed some vague justifications for it.
We can not afford to be unclear on this question which
rots the foundation of unionism.
Even before official bargaining starts the company is tearing
the union apart in the Big Three. The companies are forcing
concessionary contracts which undermine our pattern bargaining
This union is in a crisis. The companies have launched an
ideological attack on unionism at work and in the media.
Doubtless, as at the last convention, there will be delegates
who will get up and read the Administration Caucus cue cards
about and how these rules have always worked for us.
Well, we had better start addressing the fact that we are in
crisis and we have to start by figuring out how to get the
membership in this union re involved and mobilized rather
than trying to have nicely scripted conventions. That means
starting with the delegates here.
We are supposed to be the leaders of this union. I ask you
to start acting as leaders and let's get this convention
addressing the real problems."
The charade was over. The emperor was naked and everyone knew it.
The next delegate, Paul Baxter from Local 659, said, "I support
the amendment to the rules. The strategy of cooperation with
management is a failure. We cannot go on pretending that the
companies are our partners. How can you ask us to be partners
with liars, cheaters, and thieves?
This resolution book is nothing but a wish list. We need a
more effective strategy to fight back."
A sister from Local 7 opposed the amendment. She denied
knowledge of any "cue cards" but relied on the time worn
cliché, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." She called
for the question to end debate which is standard "cue card"
Wendy Thompson, a delegate from Local 235, demanded a point
of order. She said, "It is broken" and appealed to the
delegates to continue discussion and not prohibit debate.
The chair ruled her out of order and cut her speech short.
The delegates turned the amendment down with a voice vote but
Parker's challenge set the tone of the convention. Delegates
unaccustomed to opposing the administration came forward to
"oppose the resolution because the language isn't strong enough."
The phrase became a common refrain.
Fine Print vs. Bold Print
In regard to contract workers several delegates complained
about having to work side by side with non union workers.
"Why are they in our plants?" asked Don Dekker from Local 371.
Jerry Urn, a delegate from Region 4, stated his wholehearted
support for President Gettelfinger and the UAW but opposed
the resolution and echoed the refrain, "because the language
isn't strong enough." He reaffirmed his support of the UAW,
but he repeated twice for clarity and emphasis, "My members
hate two tier."
Page 19 of the official resolution book states: "We also
recognize the need for supplemental labor agreements, at
different wage and benefit rates, in specific business
circumstances where competitive pressure requires an
alternative approach to maintain employment opportunities
for our members and potential members."
The words "two tier" are carefully evaded but the intent
is clear. A trade off is in the cards: reduced wages and
benefits in return for "employment opportunities."
Two tier is not a union agreement, it's a prepaid funeral
arrangement. In 2003 the UAW pushed through a ratification
of the national agreement and then later negotiated a two-
tier supplemental agreement for Delphi that was never
ratified by the members. The two tier supplement cut wages
almost in half, reduced health care benefits, and eliminated
the pension. It wasn't enough to satisfy the "liars,
cheaters, and thieves."
Wendy Thompson rose in opposition to the weak language of
the resolution. She said we must clearly state, "No Two Tier."
The tone of her voice underlined each word. She further
advocated that we organize a campaign to "take Chrysler
off the market."
"Make noise," she said. "Mobilize the membership. What we
are facing is new and more difficult than ever. The membership
is demoralized. We should not go away from this convention
without a discussion of how to mobilize the membership."
The Concession Caucus started a campaign in 2005 called
Mobilizing@Delphi but it never materialized. Their idea
of mobilization does not include the rank and file. They
consolidate power in the front office and function more
like a human resource management team than a union. The
Concession Caucus prefers to negotiate in the backroom
and the courtroom but the results have been dismal. The
compromise and retreat strategy not only erodes our wages,
benefits, and working conditions, it divides the union,
degrades new members, and discourages organizing. Who
needs a union to bargain for concessions?
Gary Walkowicz, a delegate from Local 600, stated his case
"I speak in opposition to the resolution because it does
not say what needs to be said; It does not say what our
members want us to say ? "No More Concessions"
That is the message that the members in my plant sent me
to bring to this Convention.
This letter to the delegates signed by over 1,000 members
of the Dearborn Truck Plant This letter was also signed by
more than another thousand members in some of your plants,
signed by retirees from your locals.
No More concessions. That is the message that I know many
of you are hearing from your own members. It's time to
What has concessions gotten us, except more concessions?
We give up wage increases and promises to retirees are
And then the corporations come right back and threaten us,
pitting plant against plant, whipsawing us into passing
C.O.A.s, outsourcing our own jobs. I know the pressure that
puts on the local leaderships.
And then the ink is not even dry on the C.O.A.s and the
corporations are demanding more concessions in the national
Giving up concessions has only made the corporations bolder
and made them more greedy. Fellow delegates, I know there
are those of you who see the same thing. I say that the
business of this Convention should be to take a stand
The business of this Convention should be to organize a
fight against corporate greed, to defend the hard won
gains of this union. I believe this is what our members
want us to do."
Mark Payne, a delegate from Local 1250, also objected to
COAs. He said the companies keep redefining what they
term "core business". He insisted, "All our jobs are
Mike Libber, a delegate from Region 3, complained that
the companies use money saved from concessions to invest
in non union plants.
Paul Baxter, a delegate from Local 659, said, "Without
stronger language we will be invested into oblivion because
every investment is contingent on a net loss of jobs."
"This is not a CAP Convention, it's a Bargaining Convention"
Justin "Double Barrel" West, a four time delegate from
Local 2488, eliminated any doubt that this was a business
as usual convention.
"I rise in opposition regarding "income security issues."
TWO TIERS is KILLING this union. This resolution hardly
mentions tiered wage scales amongst other concessions.
Delphi executives continue to extract bonuses as rewards
for their heinous attack on workers across the globe.
Ford rewards its' executives with bonuses for extracting
wage and benefit concessions from workers and retirees.
Now, Daimler-Chrysler, in the midst of their continued
profitable corporate record, seeks to cover it all up so
they too can join the concessions bandwagon.
We, the membership, as elected reps from across the
nation and Canada and Puerto Rico--from varying industries
and job classifications, need to share with the leadership
of the International--and with each other--our ideas on how
to combat the corporate economic terrorism being foisted
upon all working people across the globe. How do we fight
back? When will it end?
Let there be no doubt that the UAW is in a fight for survival:
the media calls it a "fight for relevance." Meanwhile, the
UAW International's approach has been to espouse "Good things
come from competitive corporations." Or that partnerships
fostering cooperation with the corps is the way to go.
Brother Gettelfinger gave a tremendous opening speech but
even within his oration, he stated that we should not
confuse cooperation with capitulation.
Brother Gettelfinger--I am from Peoria, Illinois and I was
at the convention in 1998 when our late President Steve
Yokich called the concessionary filled settlement at
Caterpillar Tractor a "victory." Caterpillar is hiring--
2nd tier wages, no benefits, no seniority, and full-time
temps! Concessions, be they at GM, Ford, Chrysler, American
Axle, Delphi, Visteon, Mitsubishi, NUMMI, and or elsewhere,
will not be a victory!
Brother Gettelfinger: we gave Delphi the GM PLANTS; we gave
Delphi two-tier wages; we gave Delphi the GM workers' pensions!
These concessions have not sated that corporation's thirst
for more blood in this race to the bottom. Delphi has declared
a bankruptcy organized to destroy every last shred of dignity
and security that generations of union members fought and
sacrificed to achieve. My point is, Brother Gettelfinger,
concessions do NOT save jobs! To you, the International
leadership, I urge you not to confuse "victory" with
Brother Gettelfinger: you say much of these problems need
to be addressed through government legislation--but this
is not a CAP Convention, this is a BARGAINING Convention--
what can WE as workers do, DIRECTLY, NOW, to help fight
this onslaught of corporate greed before the Big Three talks--
on our jobs, at our Locals, amongst our brothers and sisters?
To this body, I urge you to vote this resolution down until
we address strategies to mobilize and fight back at the
Lastly, Thank you, Brother Gettelfinger, for mentioning the
struggle at Conn-Selmer, the Vincent Bach plant. Those locked-
out members are on the front lines, suffering but hanging
in there to defend the American Dream."
The delegates burst into applause and Gettelfinger added another
name to a list that was growing longer.
Vicky Varaclay, a delegate from an American Axle plant related
how the lack of a pattern agreement was undermining collective
bargaining. "We need stronger language on whipsawing."
Several delegates objected to takeaways from retirees who
"can't afford copays" on a fixed income. "Retirees are worried
sick" about medical expenses. "When you go in and change a plan
[in the middle of a contract] you make people afraid," a retired
The strategy of containing rebellion against the corporate
agenda by channeling anger toward politics instead of employers
is on its last legs. Too many delegates said, "The language
isn't strong enough."
The Rank & File is the Backbone
The next morning at a Concession Caucus breakfast for delegates
Gettelfinger ridiculed the small group of union members who
carried picket signs in front of the convention center the day
before. Their signs said things like: Equal Pay for Equal Work,
No Two Tier, Equal Rights for New Hires, Protect Our Pensions,
Hold GM Accountable for Delphi Pensions, Hands Off My Pension,
Put the Backbone Back into the UAW, Stop Whipsawing.
What exactly did Gettelfinger disagree with? How do those ideas
conflict with the UAW agenda for bargaining?
On the first day of the convention soldiers of solidarity
distributed the No Concession leaflet to delegates. On the
second morning they distributed the leaflet about Delphi
pensions which reiterated my conversation with UAW-VP Dick
Shoemaker at the Constitutional Convention. Shoemaker declined
to speak publicly for the record but admitted privately that
the issue was unresolved and still had to be negotiated. The
flip side of that flier was titled "Put the Backbone Back in
the UAW". Gettelfinger took one from a soldier and went into
One Question: The Delphi Pension
Before the convention started I saw Gettelfinger in the lobby
glad handing delegates. I waited my turn, shook his hand, and
asked, "What will happen to the Delphi pension when the
Benefit Guarantee expires at the end of this contract?"
"Gregg, we know you're not supposed to be here,"
Gettelfinger said. "We know you're not a delegate anymore."
He looked at my Press Pass. "And we know you're not a reporter
either. But that's all right. We don't mind that you're here."
I repeated the question. "What will happen to the Delphi
pension when the Benefit Guarantee expires at the end of
"I saw what you wrote about Dick Shoemaker," Gettelfinger
said. "Gregg, you don't hurt us, and you don't help us,
I hesitate to interpret the motivations of superior
beings but I think he wanted to make me feel insignificant.
It didn't seem important to me, so I repeated the question.
"What will happen to the Delphi pension when the Benefit
Guarantee expires at the end of this contract?"
"You should ask the UAW-GM department," he said.
"I have asked them several times but I can't get an answer.
It's important to UAW members from Delphi. I know people
who worked more than 30 years for GM and have a Delphi
pension today. They want an answer."
"We know you're not supposed to be here, Gregg. But
that's all right with us. We don't mind that you're here.
See? I'm not such a bad guy."
I don't know what his guyness had to do with it, but to his
credit about an hour later here comes Mike Grimes and David
Shoemaker from the UAW-GM department to talk with me. My cohort,
Bob Mabbit from the UnCommonSense started rolling the video
camera but they refused to speak on record. We walked down
a hall way and talked privately.
They explained that "Ron Gettelfinger told us to come out and
talk with you and answer your questions."
I repeated the one question.
They assured me that Delphi was a top priority. "We have
told GM It is our position that the Benefit Guarantee will
be triggered before the Delphi situation is settled."
I told them I was glad to hear that the UAW was committed
to holding GM accountable for our pensions, but the UAW
can't trigger the Benefit Guarantee. Events trigger the
Benefit Guarantee. If Delphi doesn't stop paying the
pension before the Benefit Guarantee expires, there is
no triggering event.
"We can cause them financial distress," Shoemaker said.
"Do you mean a strike?" I asked.
"As far as we are concerned they are already in
financial distress," Grimes said.
In other words it still has to be negotiated and no one,
neither GM, Delphi, nor the UAW has stated publicly for
the record that GM is accountable for the Delphi pensions.
The Fight for Dignity
Back in the convention delegates were debating a resolution
on Health and Safety. Vanessa Williams from Local 155 said,
"IPS [Independent Parts Suppliers] feel lost and left out."
She reported that workers "injured daily" in her plant were
harassed by management and they had to call MIOSHA despite
the fact they have union representation.
Mike Parker from Local 1700 said the resolution failed to
address "the fundamental problem: the right to refuse an
unsafe job." He explained that too often workers were forced
to work in conditions they felt were unsafe while managers
took their sweet time making up their minds. He called on
delegates to "empower workers" with the right to refuse
Paul Baxter from Local 659 in Flint said, "Unionism is
about the fight for dignity." He said that assembly work
cycles were "so tight you can't get a drink or put a stick
of gum in your mouth." He cited a passage from the Bible
on the treatment of farm animals. "We should at least hold
management to the same standard."
At the end of the convention Wendy Thompson talked about
the massive rally organized against Delphi's threat to
close one plant in Spain. She said, "We should organize
a rally for the opening day of negotiations." The convention
burst into applause.
Where Do We Go from Here?
On the first day of the convention Gettelfinger waved his
fist in the air and threatened to strike Delphi if they
voided the contract. It was a strange act considering
how much ground he has surrendered. However, the message
from the floor was consistent and clear, "The language
isn't strong enough."
Workers don't want more concessions, cooperation with
corporate restructuring, or competitive agreements. If we
wait for the Concession Caucus to mobilize resistance,
we'll all get Delphied.
Continue to collect signatures on the No Concession Petition;
whether you collect one or one thousand signatures
mail the copies to:
No Concessions Petition
P.O. Box 202
Montrose, MI 48457
A soldier of solidarity will see they are delivered to
negotiators on or before the opening day of negotiations.
We are the backbone of the UAW. Let's show them what we're
SOS, Gregg Shotwell
UAW Local 1753