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UAW puts unionists on trial at Freightliner

December 14, 2007 | Page 14

MIKE GRIFFIN of the War Zone Education Foundation in Decatur, Ill., and an activist during the A.E. Staley lockout, looks at a battle in the UAW.

WHILE TRADE unionists have focused on United Auto Workers (UAW) surrenders at Ford, Chrysler and General Motors that roll the clock back 50 years, nothing can be more telling about business unionism than the betrayal at Freightliner in Cleveland, N.C.

The contract between Freightliner and UAW Local 3520, representing 4,200 employees, expired on March 31 of this year. Armed with a 98.4 percent strike vote, Local 3520 struck Freightliner.

The media cried "wildcat strike," but that wasn't the case. The strike wasn't authorized by the International UAW, but it wasn't illegal, nor was it a wildcat strike.

The local bargaining chairman was told by the company's human resources manager on April 2 that there was no contract extension. Later, at the beginning of the night shift, the plant production manager ordered all union workers to leave the plant, telling them there would be no disciplinary action, and they would not be penalized.

What you can do

Call UAW President Ron Gettlefinger at 313-926-5000 and share your concerns.

Send a personal contribution today, or ask your union local or organization to donate. Make checks payable to: Justice 4 Five Solidarity Fund, P.O. Box 5144, Statesville, N.C. 28687. For more information, visit the Justice 4 Five Web site.


On April 3, the UAW faxed to Local 3520 a copy of a contract extension they supposedly had worked out with Freightliner without local union involvement. However, Local 3520 is not under the national agreement and is a third party in all negotiations and contract extensions between the UAW International and the company.

That day, Freightliner fired five members of the bargaining committee, five shop stewards and one other union member. The UAW negotiated April 3-5 and reached a tentative agreement without local involvement. That agreement was rejected by the local bargaining committee on April 5 and was rejected by the membership on April 18.

More than seven months ago, the UAW promised a speedy arbitration--within six weeks as specified by contract--to get the fired workers their jobs back. As it turns out, the UAW has spent more time destroying their careers than Freightliner.

But the International UAW incompetence doesn't end there. The UAW has failed to represent many of 15 more discharge cases, with some of those terminated more than two years ago. A ruthless Freightliner has a free hand to bash its employees at will.

The UAW met with Freightliner late in April, and on May 22, five shop stewards and one rank-and-file member were reinstated. In order to get their jobs back, they were forced to sign a "last chance" agreement and a statement saying they were "misled" by the bargaining committee--which, as it turns out, was not true.

According to the discharged committee members, the UAW assisted Freightliner in obtaining the false statements and testified against the five members in a National Labor Relations Board hearing on charges they filed over their discharges. The UAW then used the bogus statements to put the five members on trial, defying a vote of the membership not to do so.

The five committee members, Robert Whiteside, Allen Bradley, Franklin Torrence, Glenna Swinford and David Crisco, have vowed to continue the fight for justice. In spite of Freightliner's efforts to deny them unemployment, a savvy hearing officer awarded them unemployment payments, which have run out.

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THE LOCAL union leadership, many of them appointed by Local 3520 President George Drexel, has done nothing to support the five members, but has put them on trial.

At a June 9 union meeting, Drexel and his stooges illegally voted to remove the five committee members from elected office, but were forced to reinstate them on appeal.

Back on April 2, Drexel claimed to support the strike at a meeting with the negotiating team. After leaving the meeting, Drexel initiated an automatic phone tree telling members the strike wasn't authorized, and to return to work.

In the October union meeting, Drexel put a motion before the members to put the bargaining committee on trial, but this was turned down by the membership. At that same meeting, Drexel then established a trial committee in spite of the vote.

In a four-day union trial that followed, all five were acquitted by a 6-1 vote of the trial committee. Ellis Boal, a Detroit attorney familiar with UAW tactics, represented the committee members.

During negotiations, the committee members often took the UAW to task for trying to control negotiations and force a bad deal on Local 3520. But during the trial, not one witness for the charging parties could testify that they were deceived by the committee, or that the committee misled them.

It appears the UAW is a more formidable enemy than the ruthless Freightliner. The question that begs to be asked: How far will the UAW national leadership go to control negotiations to secure a dues-paying contract without regard for rank and file members?

That is best answered by a struggle in Henderson, Ky., between UAW Local 2036 and the wheel manufacturer Accuride. Accuride locked out the local in 1998, and when the members refused the most devastating contract in UAW history, the UAW cut off strike benefits and health insurance.

After activists organized a national picket of Solidarity House, the UAW headquarters in Detroit, the UAW reinstated benefits, but decertified the local months later. More than 600 shocked UAW families lost their jobs to scabs.

Their regional director who had vowed to support them "for as long as it takes," was none other than Ron Gettlefinger, current president of the UAW International.

The finances of these courageous rank-and-file trade unionists, some of whom helped the UAW organize Freightliner, have been exhausted. There are a number of legal battles ahead with the company, and no doubt the UAW as well.

Join us in the spirit of solidarity in supporting these dedicated and heroic trade unionists as they seek justice. We must not allow the UAW and Freightliner starve them out!

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