May 14, 2007
In 2006, top UAW leaders signed a secret agreement with Chrysler for the Belvidere Assembly Plant. To start a new shift to produce its new Caliber auto, Chrysler would be allowed to use up to 2000 temporary workers for up to two years. These workers would never be allowed to gain the rights of permanent workers. They could be fired at any time for any reason, without recourse.
It was bad enough that the auto workers’ union leaders agreed that the company could have a large force of unprotected workers to use to undermine established job standards and conditions. But this deal was kept secret from everyone – even from the temporary workers who were hired!
New workers were put through orientation as if they were becoming regular full-timers. Many left other regular jobs to be able to have a “good job” at Chrysler. Only on the day they were to start – or in some cases, after they had already gone to work – did Chrysler’s personnel department bring out the employment contract for them to sign. Surprise! You’re only temporary!
The newly hired workers cried “Fraud!” loud and long. Only then were they shown the 2006 local contract – “Yes, we agreed Chrysler could do this.”
Some of the temps organized, went to talk to other UAW workers, tried to find out what they could do. Eventually the workers decided to sue Chrysler for fraud.
The courts have never been known to take the workers’ side. But the legal documents being filed are very revealing.
As the workers’ lawyer states in one brief: “The UAW ... in combination with Chrysler, tricked them into taking worthless and demeaning temporary jobs ... (they are) victims of a deceptive “bait and switch” scheme.”
The last three decades of UAW history is loaded with unethical conduct by top leaders toward the workers. Rushed votes under phony deadlines. Contracts that are broken in the middle to degrade pensions and reduce wages. Secret deals to reduce medical coverage and available medical plans. “Shelf agreements” that sell out the next generation of workers, introducing two-tier and three-tier wages and benefits. Secret letters that commit local units to worsening work rules and on-the-job conditions without the consent of those locals. Contracts which have “to be resolved later by committee” clauses – a way to impose, for example, much stricter attendance policies without allowing workers to vote on the issue!
All this and more. It’s a direct outcome of the policy of “cooperation” that union leaders have pushed for, from 1980 on. UAW leaders say that the company has to do well before the workers can do well. If a company claims to be broke, the union’s policy is to help the company increase the profits it takes from the workers’ labor.
Belvidere shows where this leads – to a union acting 100% in the company’s interest, zero% in the workers’ interests.
Now that some Belvidere workers have stood up and challenged this fraud and exposed it in court, the leaders of both union and company will of course be more careful in the future. But if their attitude remains one of “cooperation,” of helping the company become ever wealthier before workers can have even the smallest crumb, then their carefulness will only be that of a thief, better covering his tracks.
Auto workers have a new contract coming up in September. The Belvidere case and the others like it stand as an enormous warning. No contract can be approved unless the membership has full details – every word – in their hands, and time enough to study it carefully and discuss it thoroughly.
As they say: Vote no until you know – and when you know, you will vote No!