Brazilian GM Workers Show the Way, Hold Mass Plant-Gate Rally

Last Friday, February 1, 2019, workers at the GM plant in São José dos Campos, Brazil took a militant step forward in their fight against GM’s threats and demands for concessions. Their union, Sindicato dos Metalúrgicos (Metal Workers’ Union), held a meeting to discuss GM’s demands, but it was no ordinary meeting. They held the meeting RIGHT AT THE PLANT GATES, complete with a sound truck. Production was shut down while workers took part in this mass meeting – and it delayed the start of production for 90 minutes. The workers heard that GM is threatening to close plants in Brazil unless they get 28 major concessions, including a wage freeze, unrestricted outsourcing and the end of job protection for injured workers. In the end, the workers voted to soundly repudiate GM’s blackmail, and vowed to continue the struggle.

Video of Friday’s Mass Meeting

Call for United Action, International Solidarity


Brazilian autoworkers join US and Canadian protestors against GM plant closings at the Detroit International Auto Show, January 18, 2019.

Following the plant-gate mass assembly, a meeting was held by union representatives of Brasil Metalúrgico. Brasil Metalúrgico (Brazil Metalworking) is a common front representing all metalworking unions and federations in Brazil, to discuss joint actions in defense of jobs and rights for workers throughout the automotive sector. The union’s commitment to international solidarity is evident in the fact that four representatives from the Sindicato dos Metalúrgicos (Metal Workers’ Union) had traveled to Detroit for the rally held on January 18 by Autoworkers Caravan and the Detroit Democratic Socialists of America, calling for seizing GM’s plants and converting them to useful production, as part of the call for a Green New Deal. That exciting rally at the Detroit International Auto Show also included Canadian GM workers and retirees from Unifor Local 222. The Sindicato dos Metalúrgicos is calling for international solidarity against GM and for joint actions by autoworkers and their unions in Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the US.

CSP-Conlutas Central Sindical e Popular

The Sindicato dos Metalúrgicos is affiliated to the CSP-Conlutas (CSP stands for Central Sindical e Popular – Union and Popular Central; Conlutas means with struggles). It is an organization founded in 2010 that unites unions and other popular movements comprising 140 unions and 2 million workers

The Central was born by adding youth and anti-oppression organizations that were prepared to unite under the banner of a common program for the protection of the interests of the working class against capitalist exploitation and oppression. The new entity includes the Anel (National Assembly of Free Students), the Women in Struggle Movement, the Quilombo Race and Class Movement, among others.


This is an innovative experience in organizing our class in Brazil.
Unite, in a single national entity, the trade union movements, popular, youth and the fight against the oppression of women, blacks, homosexuals and other segments.


CSP-Conlutas guides its actions in defense of the immediate demands and historical interests of the working class, aiming at the end of all forms of exploitation and oppression. Our struggle has the goal of achieving the conditions and building a socialist society, governed by the workers themselves.

The principles of CSP-Conlutas include autonomy and independence from governments, building unity as a strategic value in the struggle of the workers, direct action, collective mobilization of our class, and active internationalism.

Is Unifor’s Leadership Ignoring the Need for International Solidarity?

The time is right for an international struggle of autoworkers against the greedy corporations that try to keep us divided and weak. Just in the past few weeks we have seen:

  • Militant actions by auto workers in Brazil.
  • A strike by tens of thousands of auto workers in Mexico.
  • The rally in Detroit January 18 that challenged the absolute right of corporations to wreak destruction on workers and communities.

On November 21, 2018 there was a general strike against the South Korean government demanding reform of labour laws, and a curb to the power of industrial conglomerates (known as chaebols in Korea). It was joined by more than 125,000 members of the Korean Metal Workers Union at 109 KMWU workplaces.

The striking workers call for the chaebol-controlled economic system to be dismantled and replaced with economic democracy, and for a reform to labour law that guarantees all workers internationally-recognized, fundamental trade union rights: to join a union; to bargain collectively; and to take collective action … Auto workers at Hyundai Motors, Kia Motor, General Motors (GM), shipyard workers at Hyundai Heavy Industries, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine, and auto parts workers at Hyundai Mobis and other major components workers went on strike for four hours or more. 

And yet, even though the struggle of auto workers seems to be ramping up from Mexico to Korea, we have heard nothing about it from the Unifor leadership. We need to be building unity with auto workers in Mexico, but the Unifor leadership is calling for a boycott of vehicles built in Mexico – which only damages that unity. We need to be taking militant action like the strikers in Matamoros, Mexico and Korea. We need to be showing the power of workers in the factory, like our sisters and brothers in Brazil.

We should be organizing coordinated actions and mutual support with autoworkers around the world. Instead, Jerry Dias and his inner circle are investing their time, and our money, on an expensive PR firm to design and air Super Bowl ads. We need to stop being spectators, and start being the main show. Workers have power if we dare to exercise it. Let’s start by supporting the workers in Brazil in their struggle wherever we can – in our Local Unions and Labour Councils, and calling on our National Union to do the same.

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Interview: Why We Occupied Our General Motors Factory in Oshawa, Canada

Workers in GM’s Oshawa Assembly Plant took the initiative themselves to shut down production January 8 in a sit-down strike. Reversing GM’s decision will take more than rallies, argues auto worker Tony Leah: “We have to use our power on the job, and it needs to happen before they get all the production they want.”

[This interview first appeared in Labor Notes]

General Motors has announced it will end production at five North American plants, just a decade after the company received billions of dollars in U.S. and Canadian taxpayer money and won sweeping concessions from auto unions as part of the bailout.

All told, about 6,700 hourly and salaried employees stand to lose their jobs as the lines stop at Oshawa Assembly in Ontario, Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Michigan, and Lordstown Assembly in Ohio. Meanwhile the company is posting billions in profits.

Neither the United Auto Workers nor Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, which represents auto workers in Oshawa, has called for job actions, leaving many union activists feeling frustrated and dispirited.

Nonetheless, workers in GM’s Oshawa Assembly Plant took the initiative themselves to shut down production in a sit-down strike this week. Auto workers in Detroit will be protesting GM at the January 18 North American International Auto Show.

Tony Leah is a longtime union activist who has put in 38 years at the Oshawa plant. He chairs the Political Action Committee of Unifor Local 222 and coordinates the union education program in the plant, organizing trainings with members every week on shop floor topics like how to stop harassment and big-picture issues like trade deals.

Labor Notes’ Chris Brooks spoke with Leah on January 10 about the sit-down and why it’s essential that workers use their power on the job—not just a public relations campaign—to bring GM to the negotiating table.

Labor Notes: When did you hear about the company’s decision to end production in Oshawa, and what was the response from your co-workers?

Tony Leah: On Sunday, November 25, in the evening, is when word got out. I believe that the union had received some notification from GM that afternoon, so that started circulating pretty widely.

Monday morning, people were angry. We had been told there would be an announcement from GM, but everyone knew by then that they were planning to close the plant by the end of 2019.

Management told workers we would be gathered together for meetings by 10 a.m. for the announcement, but we all walked out of the plant before that.

The plant was shut down and that evening we had a meeting with the union leadership about what they had heard from GM and what our response was going to be.

What has been Unifor’s response?

There has been a woeful lack of involvement of members in determining strategy and direction. The leadership has not asked members to discuss ideas. It is asking people to show up for small rallies around town waving banners, putting up lawn signs, and so on.

The local union leadership has gone so far as to actively discourage involvement or questions by sabotaging union meetings—for example, directing union reps not to show up, and having them direct members to a banner event instead of the local membership meeting on January 4, resulting in there being no quorum and having the meeting cancelled.

From the national union, while [Unifor President] Jerry Dias has used militant rhetoric, the actual campaign has mainly relied on a public relations company. The campaign is designed to run ads on radio, television, and social media.

They are saying GM is harming workers in the community, which is true—and public support is important. But it’s not sufficient to change GM’s decision. A battle like this requires far more than public sympathy. We have to have a direct impact on their bottom lines and impact their profits. Unfortunately, that has not been a central part of the union’s strategy.

In my opinion, the greatest weaknesses so far are, one, not seeing workers’ ability to stop production as key, and two, ignoring the need for solidarity from the rest of the labor movement in Canada, and solidarity with auto workers in the U.S. and other countries.

Jerry Dias pulled Unifor out of the Canadian Labour Congress a year ago to allow him to pursue raids against other affiliates, which has had a big negative impact on our ability to build a broader fightback. The membership of Local 222 opposed the disaffiliation.

The union is run in a top-down way, so they come up with the strategy and just expect everyone else to implement it. There is no forum for us to discuss how to push our advantage on the production line. The positive actions have been mostly driven by spontaneous actions of the workers.

How were the sit-down actions organized? These were worker-led actions, not initiated by the national union, right?

Everything boiled over this week because we were told that Unifor was meeting with GM in Detroit to discuss keeping Oshawa open. We were told there would be a response from GM that would be announced at a press conference on Tuesday, January 8.

At the time that the press conference was on, around 4:20 p.m. that day, most people were gathered somewhere in the plant to watch it. The announcement was that GM was still going to end production in Oshawa.

So the truck-production shift, which works afternoons, sat down. The whole plant went down as a result, so about 700 people stopped work. People gathered together. Management tried to get people to go back to work. When that failed, management told everyone to leave, and then that failed.

The union had to respond, but the plant leadership was in Windsor at the time and it took them five hours to get to the plant. Eventually the plant chair arrived and gave his speech and led everyone out of the plant. They got no production from that shift.

The action happened because people had built up hope in the union’s meetings with the company and nothing came out of it.

The next day there were sporadic actions, but no overall shutdown or occupation. Lots of people were angry and stopping work and shutting things down in truck and car production. That anger is still there, and the desire to resist is still there.

The national leadership has called for a January 11 rally in Windsor to protest the closing. That’s a head scratcher. We feel like the battle is here.

Can you give me an example of the union’s failed PR strategy?

The best example is the “Tree of Hope.” The union called a press conference in mid-December and said we are going to launch our public campaign against the GM plant closing.

The press conference was in Memorial Park, where the union unveiled this big 20- to 30-foot Christmas tree. They had places where people could leave messages on a banner to show community support. They had Christmas ornaments that say “Save GM Oshawa” that people could order and put on their own trees and then share out on social media.

When you have a campaign designed by a P.R. firm, you get this kind of media stuff and not anything that actually impacts profit generation at the point of production. You don’t get strikes, you get a “Tree of Hope.”

Our members are showing they want to be more aggressive dealing with GM. We showed that on the first day, when we walked out and shut down three shifts. The union told us to go back and show GM what a good job we can do producing for them.

Oftentimes union members don’t want to be too critical of the union, especially when we are under attack. But it is imperative that we question this strategy and push for militant actions.

It seems like the union is totally disconnected from the anger that workers and community members have about GM’s decision, especially given the past history of union concessions and taxpayer bailout.

That’s exactly right. We’ve given up so much over the years. For 10 years, we had 500 people that were classified as “Supplemental Workforce Employees, or SWEs” and were second-tier workers. They performed the same jobs as everyone else, but for far less – first 70%, later 60% of regular pay.

The SWEs were considered to be somewhat like perpetual probationary employees, or contract workers. They did not have a seniority date, which is a fundamental right under any collective agreement. As non-seniority employees they did not have any layoff and recall rights, no pensions, no supplemental unemployment benefits, far fewer health care and other benefits.

GM started using that category of worker in 2007 and got the union to agree to it. Initially, these positions were only supposed to be hired for short periods when there were major plant changes, but GM extended them to all the time.

Finally in 2016 it was negotiated that they were going to be hired as seniority employees. But although some of them had worked for GM since 2007, they were all assigned a seniority date of September 26, 2016. They got no credit for the years they worked as GM employees. That means that if the plant closes this year, they will be considered to only have three years’ service and will not be eligible for any plant closure compensation under the current contract.

These are people doing the exact same job. Our production rate is $35.42 (Canadian) an hour. But second-tier workers are currently making $20.92 to $23.91 an hour. It takes 11 years to reach equal pay. Two people doing the same job right next to each other and one is making $35 an hour and the other makes $21. The union’s justification was that this was what was needed to keep these jobs here, but as we see, it has had no impact on keeping the jobs here. It just added to GM’s profits.

What’s it like working at GM at Oshawa?

It’s changed a lot over the years. When I was first hired, the company was in expansion mode. There were 75 apprentices in my apprenticeship class and 400 total in the plant. In the mid-1980s we had 3,000 skilled-trades and 14,000 production workers in Oshawa.

We’ve gone through a long series of layoffs and the elimination of vehicles we produce. It’s been really difficult. Today, we have about 320 skilled-trades and 1,800 production workers. We have flex lines—car production is on one shift and truck production on two other shifts.

A lot of that workforce reduction is due to elimination of plants and operations, and reduction in vehicle assembly shifts and volume. But a significant part is due to outsourcing of work to third-party companies

Even in our facility, we have eight or 10 other companies that are doing work associated with the plant that used to be GM jobs. Cleaning, building services, sequencing, security, and other operations are now done by workers who work inside the Oshawa plant, but who do not work directly for GM. Even the tire room has been outsourced.

Thus, even though there are only 2,100 GM workers who are represented by Unifor, there are another 1,000 or more who work inside the plant for other employers—most of whom are also members of Unifor Local 222.

That is just within the plant itself. It doesn’t include outside suppliers. All told there are over 5,000 direct jobs that will be lost if this plant closes.

This is all happening at a time when GM’s profits are soaring.

GM’s profits have been incredible since 2010. Just over the last couple of years, GM’s North American profits have been $12 billion (U.S.) annually.

So they are making out like bandits. They took government money, wrote off their debts, implemented two tier systems, and all of that is going to their profits. But there is no commitment to anyone else.

Why are we allowing our entire economy to run on the basis of what is best for corporations and not for our communities? That is the larger question we should be asking, rather than publicly begging GM to keep this one plant here.

If GM walks away from Oshawa, then we should seize the operation and convert production to socially necessary and beneficial work. That’s the kind of issue being raised in Detroit by Autoworkers Caravan and the Detroit Democratic Socialists of America. They’re calling for making Detroit the engine of a Green New Deal.

Those of us that have that outlook are hoping to raise these points at the Detroit auto show on January 18. This action has been endorsed by Local 222’s Political Action Committee and our local’s Retiree Committee. We are chartering a bus to bring workers to that action in Detroit.

Unifor has also followed the UAW in making explicitly nationalistic appeals to these companies, pushing for what is best for Americans or Canadians, as opposed to what is best for workers.

Fundamentally, our issues as workers are common. All workers that are dealing with GM should have solidarity with one another.

I don’t see that coming from our national union’s leadership, unfortunately. They frame everything as GM betraying Canada and we need to save Canada. They aren’t trying to build common efforts for workers in the United States or to build international solidarity with workers in Mexico.

Our national union has ties to the Liberal Party of Canada, which involved Jerry Dias as part of its NAFTA renegotiation team.

This isn’t your first plant occupation. Can you talk about what happened in 1996 and how that informs what you think would be an effective strategy today?

That was the year we went on strike. GM tried to take dies [specialized tools used to cut and shape particular parts] out of our plant while we were on strike so they could maintain production.

There were parts that were produced in Oshawa that were needed for plants in the United States. Due to the strike, production in the States would shut down. So GM tried to get an injunction and seize these dies to maintain production and break the strike. In response, we occupied the plant.

We learned that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with legalities, but with what is an effective strategy given the circumstances. The history of our union is that we have to occupy plants to make gains, whether that occupation is legal or illegal.

In our current situation, we have more bargaining leverage with GM while they have production scheduled for our plant. Currently we are making old-model pickup trucks while the Fort Wayne Assembly Plant is being retooled for the new model. GM wants to maintain market share in the meantime. So truck production continues here.

GM makes huge profits on these trucks—estimates are $15,000 per truck. The trucks we are scheduled to build here before they shut the plant will generate $1 billion in profit for GM.

That gives us bargaining leverage and power over this corporation. They don’t care about a Tree of Hope. They want these trucks and this profit.

We shouldn’t hand it over to them. If they want those trucks, then they have to give us something in return. We have to use our power on the job, which is far more important than ads on television. And it needs to happen before they get all the production they want.

Under current circumstances, sitting down on the job is more powerful than walkouts and even traditional strikes.

Once we’ve taken the plant over, we can begin to lead a national conversation about who is going to run it in the future. It would be powerful to involve the community and government in a discussion about what we can do with this production capacity once it is put in our hands for our benefit, rather than GM’s.

This interview first appeared in Labor Notes, January 11, 2019.

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Oshawa GM Workers Denounce Pension Boost Negotiated Just for Union Reps

“Betrayal!”

That’s the title of a leaflet that is being circulated in the Oshawa General Motors assembly plant.

Workers are furious at the recent revelation that a special deal was negotiated with GM in 2016 that gave 18 union representatives much bigger pensions than they were entitled to under the ordinary provisions of the contract. Six different “notwithstanding” paragraphs give these reps $380 a month more in pensions – that is $4,560 per year.

Leaflet being distributed by angry Local 222 members.

Solinet has written previously about the two-tier wages and pensions negotiated by Unifor with the auto companies in 2016:

It’s no surprise that non-union workers at Toyota and Honda are not impressed when Jerry Dias “bargains” two-tier contracts with GM, Ford and FiatChrysler that have newer workers earning $15 per hour less than people beside them doing the same jobs. They don’t get equal pay for 11 years! Their pensions and benefits are inferior. Unifor “bargained” a 6-year grow-in starting at 70% of wages in 2009. In 2012 this was made worse – an 11-year grow-in starting at 60%. Despite the companies making record profits, Unifor failed to shorten the grow-in in 2016. Of course, this outrageous exploitation of newer workers has now spread into all sectors where Unifor bargains. Why would workers be inspired to sign on to a union whose bargaining is stuck in reverse?

Reps Get the Goldmine, Retirees & Workers Get the Shaft

It only rubs salt in the wounds when workers find out that the union leadership went out of their way to arrange a sweetheart deal for some appointed and elected union reps, but made no gains for existing retirees and workers. There have been no increases in autoworker pensions since 2007 – 11 years – which means those retirees have lost 20% of the value of their pensions due to inflation. Seniority workers hired before 2012 have only had one wage increase to their base pay, and two small COLA adjustments since 2007 – so they have also lost about 13% of the purchasing power of their pay. Really, that is the same as a 13% pay cut. And the workers hired since then have been treated the worst, and won’t see equal pay for doing the same job for 11 years. Workers hired before 2012 were enticed to vote in favour of the contract with a promise of 3 December payments of $2,000 each. But former contract workers (termed Supplemental Workforce Employees) were given seniority dates of September 26, 2016, even though some of them had been working for GM since 2006. And instead of $6,000 in December payments, they get only a single payment of $1,000 in December 2019.

Now it has come to light, that despite this pitiful failure to negotiate for all the members and retirees who pay the freight with their dues, Jerry Dias and his crew made it a priority to negotiate much bigger pensions for a select group.

Negotiating Corrupt Benefits – The Details

The negotiated language is quite bizarre. To understand the contract language, you need to know a couple of things. First, anything that is underlined was added in 2016 bargaining. So we can tell that every word on this page was brand new. Second, you need to know that “Benefit Class Code D” refers to the highest negotiated pension rate, which is for skilled trades workers. Finally, the word “Notwithstanding” is used six times, meaning that the listed union reps will get a skilled trades pension when they retire, instead of the production worker’s pension that they are entitled to get (almost all of them are production workers, not trades).

The difference in the two pensions is significant. Production workers with 30 years service have a negotiated pension of $3,515 per month until age 65. The skilled trades pension is $3,895 per month. This new language gives the 18 designated reps an additional $380 a month or $4,560 per year. That is a pension increase of more than 18%. At age 65, the ’30 and out’ amount is replaced by a monthly amount times years of service. For production workers that is $68.50 a month times years of service, while for trades it is $81 a month times years of service. For a production worker with 35 years service, this special deal means an extra $12.50 a month (the difference between $68.50 and $81) times 35 years service = $437.50 a month, or $5,250 per year on top of the pension they are entitled to – year after year.

Who gets this special Union Rep’s Benefit?

Local Union Presidents and Financial Secretaries are included. So are the Local 222 Benefit Reps – but only the ones who held the position on September 19, 2016. There is a list of people that Jerry Dias or his predecessors appointed as “National Coordinators” including one of Buzz Hargrove’s daughters. Then there are the really weird ones where it is obvious that the Union wanted only one person to get the plum, but seem embarrassed to just use their name. For example:

(1.6) Notwithstanding (1) above, the employee who held the position of GM-Unifor Coordinator as appointed on Monday January 11, 2016 and who retires on or after October 1, 2016 directly from the position will be eligible for Benefit Class Code D.

How many people were appointed to this position on Monday, January 11, 2016? Only one, of course.

(1.7) Notwithstanding (1) above, an employee who held the position of President of CAW Local 222 between June 1, 2004 and February 1, 2013, and who retires on or after March 1, 2013 after commencing a leave of absence to work for Unifor National Union will be eligible for Benefit Class Code D.

Answers?

The Local 222 members leaflet raises some great questions about this obviously corrupt deal. They want the questions answered at their membership meeting Wednesday, October 4, 2018. Let’s hope they can get those answers.

 

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Unifor National Ruled in Violation of Unifor Constitution Over CLC Exit

After spending seven months on a public misinformation campaign including costly province wide townhall meetings against the backdrop of anti-union raiding, the Unifor National Executive Board has been found in violation of our constitution by the Public Review Board (PRB). The Public Review Board is an arms-length body that hears appeals from Unifor members against decisions of the NEB. The first PRB was established by Walter Reuther for the UAW, when unions were under attack from claims they were not democratic.

From the outset the NEB denied the constitutional violations, but also took the position that the PRB did not have jurisdiction over the appeal or the ability to reverse their undemocratic decision, asking for our appeal to be dismissed outright. Not only did they seek to derail pubic inquiry into their actions, but several other appeals from locals across our union were denied without satisfactory explanation, seemingly in an attempt to make the calls for democracy appear isolated rather than widespread. While the PRB stopped short of overturning the decision to leave the CLC, they made it extremely clear that the National did in fact violate our constitution and expressed that hopefully this decision will lead to further discussions about the need for true union democracy within Unifor. In addition, the PRB dismissed the arguments of the NEB as being “unreasonable”.

“In our view, the language of Article 19(2) makes plain that the decision to disaffiliate from the CLC does not lie with the NEB alone. The words “subject to” indicate a qualification of
on the NEB’s authority and reading the provision in a way that authorizes the NEB to make and implement such a decision unilaterally effectively reads these words out of the article. We appreciate and have considered the argument, made by Unifor, that other articles of the Constitution make it explicit when decisions must be approved by other means prior to being implemented. Certainly, compared with the language contained in article 15(A)(4), article 19(2) is less explicit and arguably gives rise to some ambiguity. However, we cannot accept that the words “subject to” have no real meaning or that they simply confer a power to decide whether a decision made and implemented many months ago will remain in effect, or be reversed. In our view, such an interpretation is unreasonable.”

When the CLC disaffiliation was first announced it shook the Canadian labour movement to its very core, sowing seeds of mistrust and division at a crucial time for our movement. With a degree of arrogance rivaled only by the corporations we are supposed to be fighting against, they made this unconstitutional decision with zero input from the people most affected by this change, the rank and file members of Unifor itself.

On the eve of Unifor Canadian Council, our delegates have the chance to reverse this horrendous decision, or conversely to support it. After months of misinformation from our leadership surrounding this issue, it is likely that the latter will occur, but the fact remains that the appropriate decision making body will finally and rightfully get to decide the direction of our union, a direction presupposed by an executive board who believe themselves to be above reproach and powerful enough to flatly violate the constitution they swore an oath to uphold. This attitude is truly an enormous shame and does a great disservice to workers across the nation. Apparently Democracy only Matters when we are raiding other unions and need a catchy phrase to justify our grossly divisive actions during a public relations nightmare.

What can we expect next from a National Executive Board that is willing to use our own dues to lie to us about the scope and use of the power we allow them to have? Only time will tell, but a few things are certain: we need leaders who respect and uphold our constitution, who remember where they came from and who they represent. We need honest and accountable leadership who embrace constructive criticism rather than leaders with fragile egos who stifle dissent to create the illusion of solidarity where obedience sadly takes precedence. More importantly, we need rank and file members to raise their voices in dissent when the principles of our union are violated. This rank and file driven victory for our members stands as proof that through dedicated grassroots effort we can ensure that those in power are held accountable, whether it be in the workplace or in our own house where these constitutional violations should never occur in the first place.

This is the entirety of the PRB Decision (applicant is erroneously stated as our Local 222 Recording Secretary who filed the request on behalf of Local 222). We at Solinet hope that each of you will take the time to read these documents and catch a small glimpse of why grassroots union activism is needed now more than ever. Only when the workers who make up our union have a meaningful and respected voice in our national decision making will our union achieve its enormous potential. Until then we all must demand democracy when it is denied, and if our demands are silenced by those in power we must take democracy without apology.

 

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UAW-Fiat Chrysler Corruption: “Greasing the Skids for Concessions”

The US federal corruption case against UAW officials and Fiat Chrysler executives continues to widen, and now the organizations themselves, the UAW and Fiat Chrysler, have been labeled co-conspirators. This backs up the original analysis by the Unifor Solidarity Network that “this is not the result of a few corrupt individuals – it is the inevitable consequence of decades of a culture of class collaboration”.

The latest revelations come from the Plea Agreement of Michael Brown, Director of Employee Relations at Fiat Chrysler from 2009 through 2016. In that position, “Michael Brown was personally involved in the negotiation and administration of the national collective bargaining agreements between” Fiat Chrysler (FCA) and the UAW, “and had authority to sign letters and agreements on behalf of FCA with the UAW. Michael Brown also represented FCA as a Co-Director of the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center (NTC).”

Bob King (former UAW President), General Holiefield, Scott Gaberding (Fiat Chrysler), Al Iacobelli (Fiat Chrysler) at the opening of 2011 negotiations.

UAW and Fiat Chrysler – Co-conspirators

The plea agreement points to a conspiracy between UAW officials, FCA executives and the UAW and FCA “to violate the Labor Management Relations Act.”

The UAW has been trying desperately to distance themselves from this scandal, by claiming it only involved some rogue officials. Their denials are shown to be self-serving lies by the fact that they allowed those “rogue” officials to retire and collect pensions instead of taking action against them. Now the UAW is named as a co-conspirator.

Greasing the Skids for Concessions

The UAW also claimed that the corruption did not have any effect on workers’ contracts. However, FCA executive Brown now admits in his plea agreement that:

Michael Brown knew that the purpose of the conspiracy to provide prohibited payments to UAW officials was to grease the skids in order to obtain benefits, advantages, and concessions in the negotiation, implementation, and administration of the collective bargaining agreements between FCA and the UAW. 

Sham Employment

Another new detail revealed in the plea agreement is that Fiat Chrysler allowed UAW officials to have friends and family members put on the payroll on sham jobs where they did no work.

From 2009 through 2015, FCA executives authorized UAW Vice President General Holiefiield, UAW Official UAW-3, and other UAW officials to offer sham employment status at the NTC to a number of their friends, family, and allies … numerous individuals were categorized as being on “special assignment” status to the NTC when, in fact, those individuals did little or no work on behalf of the NTC.

One of the UAW officials implicated is former Vice President Norwood Jewell. Jewell was allowed to retire – he announced his surprise retirement in November 2017, and remained on the job until January. NTC funds paid for a party for Jewell in 2014.

More than $30,000 was spent throwing a party in August 2014 for former UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, The News has learned. The party included “ultra premium” liquor, strolling models who lit labor leaders’ cigars and a $3,000 tab for wine in bottles with custom labels that featured Jewell’s name.

The Detroit News also revealed that “two of Jewell’s sons are servicing representatives with the union, according to the UAW’s annual filings. Justin Jewell is paid $125,744 while Derik Jewell’s total compensation is $116,726.”

Corruption Probe Widens to Include GM

The NTC fund is the centre of the corruption scandal, because it was designed to serve as a slush fund. It was jointly administered by Al Iacobelli and General Holiefield – the key actors in the conspiracy – and was funded by Fiat Chrysler at between $13 million and $31 million per year. But the UAW has similar funds at Ford and GM as well, and at least the GM fund is also being investigated by the Feds. In November 2017, The Detroit News reported that federal agents were interested in retired UAW Vice President Joe Ashton, who abruptly resigned from the board of General Motors Co. in December, and Cindy Estrada, his successor in charge of the union’s GM department, who was re-elected this week at the UAW Convention. Here is some more about the GM fund from the Detroit News:

Allegations of nepotism are not limited to the UAW-Chrysler training center. GM and the UAW operate the Center for Human Resources training center in Detroit. So many relatives of UAW officials have worked there that some dub the facility the “Center for Hidden Relatives.”

Details about nepotism within the UAW training centers emerged in 2015 when former Center for Human Resources receptionist Shannan McDonald, unsuccessfully sued the training center. McDonald claimed she was forced to resign after being discriminated against due to a disability.

Estrada was deposed in April 2016.

“Ms. Estrada, do you have a daughter or step-daughter named Tara?” McDonald’s lawyer Jeffrey Burg asked during the deposition.

“Tara White,” Estrada said.

“What is she to you?” the lawyer asked.

“She’s my step-daughter,” Estrada said.

“And is Tara White working for (the training center) now?” the lawyer said.

“Yes, she is,” Estrada said.

“Is she working the receptionist job that Shannan had occupied before Shannan left?” the lawyer asked.

“Yes,” Estrada said.

Jerry Dias, Al Iacobelli and Steve Carlisle

When fraud charges were first laid against Al Iacobelli, Jerry Dias could only praise him:

“Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the union that negotiated with Iacobelli for Canadian autoworker contracts, said he always viewed him as a professional labor executive.

I’ve probably known Al for 15 years. … This is right out of left field. I never would have expected it,” Dias said. “I’m in shock, to say the least.”

L to R: Jerry Dias, Steve Carlisle, President , General Motors Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attend GM Canada announcement in Oshawa.

After Iacobelli left Fiat Chrysler, he was hired by GM and was put in charge of the 2016 negotiations with Unifor in Canada. Was there similar collusion here? Jerry has so far refused to say if that possibility was investigated. What is not in doubt, is that the 2016 pattern agreement with GM of Canada was the most unpopular in the union’s history, with two-tier wages and the elimination of defined benefit pensions for new hires.

Al Iacobelli is not the only corporate fat cat that Jerry Dias has a soft spot for. When Steve Carlisle left his position as President of GM of Canada, Jerry had only praise for him, including saying he considered him an “ally”!

“For me, it was imperative, during the 2016 contract negotiations, to have someone who I believed was an ally and who was looking for a solution,” Dias said in a telephone interview.  

In 2016, at a General Motors photo op announcement in Oshawa attended by Justin Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne, Jerry refused to sit with members of the union local (Unifor Local 222) because he wanted to be as close as possible to Steve Carlisle and Trudeau (see picture).

Team Concept and Class Collaboration Must Go

Does Unifor also have a “Center for Hidden Relatives”? Whether they practice nepotism or not, it is clear the top Unifor leadership has travelled too far down the road of “team concept” and class collaboration. Auto workers won’t be able to make progress until that losing strategy is discarded.

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Auto Workers Against Wynne Show the Way Forward

The Auto Workers Against Wynne held a ground-breaking rally at Queen’s Park last Sunday. A group of non-union workers from the Toyota plant showed more initiative, more organizing smarts, and more willingness to take on the Liberal government than the leadership of Unifor. One of the leaders of the rally, Doug Penner, was interviewed on the Taylor Report (89.5 fm) Monday, April 23, 2018.

The governing Liberals did some backroom calculating and decided they could get away with excluding autoworkers from legislation providing 10 days emergency leave for Ontario workers. Premier Wynne found out fast that autoworkers at Toyota are wide awake and they do not sit back. They rallied at Queen’s Park and NDP leaders were quick to bring support. Unifor President Jerry Dias, a Liberal Party friend, was absent.

Listen to the interview here:

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Raiding Replaces Organizing at Unifor

Unifor claims to be the “largest private sector union” in Canada. It would be more accurate to describe them as the largest union-raiding organization in Canada. Unifor now spends more time and money raiding other unions than they do organizing un-organized workers. Almost 60% of “new” members in the first 3 months of 2018 came from raiding.

The proof is in the April 4 issue of Unifor’s online publication, Unilink. Unifor brags that they have signed up 1,605 new members, but 919 of those “new” members were actually hotel workers who had belonged to UNITE HERE 75 in Toronto. Unifor targeted 24 hotels represented by UNITE HERE and were only able to win votes at 5 of them. Those 5 units have an average size of 184 workers. That is an abject failure. Jerry’s incompetence at raiding is the only consolation here.

But an even bigger failure is the record of Unifor at organizing the unorganized. In the same three months, across Canada only 686 workers from 10 locations joined Unifor. The average unit size is under 70 workers. All but one of those certifications were in Ontario and Quebec. Unifor’s record in the other 8 provinces and 3 territories – one unit of 85 workers.

How is it possible that Unifor, with 18 full-time reps in the Organizing Department (all on 6-figure salaries), and an annual organizing budget of $10 million, can produce such dismal results? Is anyone in the corner offices at Unifor headquarters asking themselves why workers don’t want to join them? In all of 2017 they organized 3,279 workers. The 686 for the first quarter of 2018 is an even lower annual rate of 2,744. Could this be the reason Jerry Dias is willing to divide and undermine the house of labour in Canada in order to raid unions that are part of the Canadian Labour Congress?

Ford Oakville workers tell Jerry Dias what they think of the two-tier contract of 2016.

Workers Reject Two-Tier Concessionary Agreements

It’s no surprise that non-union workers at Toyota and Honda are not impressed when Jerry Dias “bargains” two-tier contracts with GM, Ford and FiatChrysler that have newer workers earning $15 per hour less than people beside them doing the same jobs. They don’t get equal pay for 11 years! Their pensions and benefits are inferior. Unifor “bargained” a 6-year grow-in starting at 70% of wages in 2009. In 2012 this was made worse – an 11-year grow-in starting at 60%. Despite the companies making record profits, Unifor failed to shorten the grow-in in 2016. Of course, this outrageous exploitation of newer workers has now spread into all sectors where Unifor bargains. Why would workers be inspired to sign on to a union whose bargaining is stuck in reverse?

Dias’ Friends Are Liberal Politicians, Not Workers

Shane Wark (left front) one of Jerry Dias’ assistants, cozying up to the Liberal Ministers of Labour and Transportation, along with some of Jerry’s Raiders.

The Unifor leadership is more interested in rubbing shoulders with corporate executives and Liberal politicians than hanging out with workers or fighting for their interests (see photo). This is class collaboration, and it is never going to appeal to workers who need a union that will put workers’ interests first. The most recent example – The Ontario Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne short-changed workers in the auto sector in the new employment standards legislation. Autoworkers get only 7 Paid Emergency Leave (PEL) days, while other workers get 10 PEL days. Worse – other workers get paid for the first 2 PEL days and autoworkers are paid for none. Yet, Jerry Dias is not willing to fight to get this changed. In fact, Jerry was part of the advisory panel that agreed to exempt the auto sector – because the corporate execs asked the government to give them special treatment. Now autoworkers are so angry they are circulating petitions and preparing for a rally at Queen’s Park on April 22. These efforts are being led by non union autoworkers from the Toyota and Honda plants. Instead of supporting this amazing effort – Jerry Dias is avoiding them like the plague. He won’t answer their phone calls or emails. He won’t mobilize Unifor members to attend the rally. The Ontario NDP is in full support, but not Jerry – he is sticking by his Liberal Party patrons. Instead of supporting the rally, he arranged his own meeting with Liberal ministers, and then bragged that he had gotten “a commitment by the Ontario government to launch a review panel to examine the

Autoworkers show their contempt for Jerry Dias’ post bragging about meeting with the Liberal ministers of Labour and Transportation and getting a promise of a “review panel”.

exemption”. Not a very impressive accomplishment – but that is what happens when you are not willing to fight. Of course, Jerry’s Facebook post where he made this hollow boast, attracted a slew of sarcastic, angry comments from real autoworkers. We have posted a screen shot of some of them, in case Jerry’s social media handlers ever get around to deleting them.

Support Autoworkers Against Wynne Rally at Queen’s Park April 22

Rally at Queen’s Park Sunday April 22, 2018

Unlike Jerry, we hope thousands of autoworkers, both union and non-union, show up at Queen’s Park on Sunday, April 22 at 10 am to demand fair treatment for all workers under the Employment Standards Act.

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Unifor Local 222 Endorses NDP

Unifor Local 222 strongly endorsed the NDP in the upcoming Ontario election, at their general membership meeting April 5. Local 222 represents GM workers in Oshawa and 30 other bargaining units in Durham region. This action is a dramatic rejection of the “strategic voting” policy of Jerry Dias, National President of Unifor.

The motion that was presented and passed noted that the key planks of Andrea Horwath’s campaign platform were in the best interests of the members of Local 222 and their community. It mandated a detailed strategy to engage and mobilize the Local’s rank-and-file members. The motion called on Local 222 to:

  • Mail a message to to every member of Local 222 highlighting the benefits of the NDP’s platform

    Jennifer French, Oshawa NDP MPP, supporting the campaign to keep GM in Oshawa
  • Invite local NDP candidates to address the Local’s membership meetings in May and June
  • Print articles in the Local’s monthly publication, the Oshaworker
  • Encourage members to participate in canvassing in the community

Local 222 members know that they have received strong backing from Oshawa MPP Jennifer French, especially during the 2016 auto bargaining. Meanwhile, autoworkers, like all workers across the province, have suffered from the policies of successive Liberal and Conservative governments. The Kathleen Wynne Liberals have privatized Hydro One – going even further than the Mike Harris Conservative government. Privatization has led to soaring hydro rates for workers, while the CEO of Hydro One gets a massive pay increase of $1.7 million dollars, to hit $6.2 million – a 37.8% increase in one year. The recent Liberal budget includes a backdoor scheme for the privatization of such key public assets as the TTC (ATU Local 113 has helped expose and publicize this reactionary plan. Notably, the Doug Ford Conservatives have the same policy on this issue as the Liberals.)

Autoworkers Discriminated Against by Liberal Regulation

The Liberals even had the arrogance to exclude autoworkers from the recent changes to labour standards in Ontario, knowing that their pal Jerry would go along. All other workers are now guaranteed 10 personal emergency leave days (PEL days), of which the first 2 must be paid. But autoworkers are limited to only 7 PEL days per year, and  get no paid days at all, because of a Liberal regulation. As usual, the Liberals are doing favours for their friends, the wealthy owners of the immensely profitable auto companies. Shamefully, Dias was a member of the “special advisory panel” along with the corporate executives, that agreed the poor auto companies needed this concession. This is on top of Jerry bargaining two-tier contracts that have new workers doing the same job for $15 per hour less than other workers. New workers take 11 years to get to equal wages, have inferior pensions, and have almost no post-retirement health care benefits.

Make it Count – for the NDP!

The Liberals and the Conservatives are both Bay Street parties – they are bought and paid for by corporate owners and financiers. They have fundamentally the same policies. The biggest threat in promoting “strategic voting” is that it is designed to confuse and mislead workers about the policy of the Liberal party. The strategic voting hucksters want to convince us that we should vote for the Liberals “to stop the Conservatives”. But what workers really need, is to fight for our own political demands and interests. We will never be served by electing parties that represent our adversaries, the corporate elite. Unifor’s official policy for the Ontario election is “Make it Count“, and they have mailed every Unifor member in Ontario a flyer that studiously avoids identifying which party would best represent us as workers. You have to wonder which side Jerry Dias is on. Actually, you don’t have to wonder – he makes it clear time and again that he is on the side of the Liberal Party, not on the side of the workers.

Jerry Dias Praises Liberal Budget

Most recently Jerry was quoted by the National Post praising the Liberal’s budget. They threw him a bone – as a reward for undermining the Canadian Labour Congress – a rule change that he can pretend supports his jingoistic attacks on international unions. As Sid Ryan said, “Bob White would turn in his grave to see The Financial (Com)Post, Toronto Sun, Unifor leadership and the Liberals, all on the same page”.

Support Working Class Politics

Local 222 is showing the way to dump “strategic voting” in the garbage bin where it belongs. We have to get rid of union leaders who believe in class collaboration, instead of fighting for workers. More Unifor locals need to take matters into their own hands, and stop blindly following the lead of Jerry Dias and his cronies.

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New Group “We Are Unifor” Opposes CLC Disaffiliation, Challenges Lack of Democracy by Unifor Leaders

There is growing opposition to undemocratic actions by Jerry Dias and other Unifor leaders, such as the unilateral disaffiliation from the Canadian Labour Congress. A new group called We Are Unifor has been gathering signatures of Unifor members for their Democracy Declaration. Over 100 Unifor members from over 40 different local unions have already signed this declaration which states:

www.weareunifor.ca

  • It’s time for a more democratic Unifor. It’s time for a Unifor where major decisions are made by the membership. It’s time for a Unifor where political debate is encouraged and where members can voice their opinions without fear of intimidation and retribution.
  • It’s time for Unifor’s NEB to rescind the decision to disaffiliate from the CLC. Unilaterally disaffiliating, effective immediately, was a clear violation of the Constitution, a clear violation of our democratic rights as Unifor members.
  • No consultation. No membership vote. No mandate.

Four Unifor Locals Appeal Undemocratic Disaffiliation

We Are Unifor has also been instrumental in encouraging Unifor Local unions to file appeals (called “review of decision” in the language of the Unifor Constitution). We Are Unifor reported on February 26:

Four locals are now challenging the decision. Locals 88 and 567 recently joined locals 222 and 2025 in beginning formal appeals of the decision, arguing that leaving the CLC without a membership vote violated the Unifor Constitution.  Stay tuned for updates as these challenges proceed.

Please check out the We Are Unifor website at https://weareunifor.ca and their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WeAreUnifor/

The appeal from Unifor Local 222 was passed at the Local membership meeting on February 1.

Local 222 Request for Review

 

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Respect the Voices of Rank-and-File Hotel Workers

Jerry Dias has tried to justify his disaffiliation from the CLC and his failed attempted raid of hotel workers in UNITE HERE Local 75, by claiming he is defending workers from an “American Invasion”. Nothing punctures this false narrative more effectively than listening to the voices of actual rank-and-file hotel workers, the very workers who have organized their industry in Toronto and made impressive gains for their members.

The Taylor Report on CIUT-FM 89.5 interviewed Rick Hockley, a long-time Local 75 activist, on Monday, February 19, 2018.Everyone who is concerned with this current crisis in the Canadian labour movement should listen to this interview. Rick has been a server/bartender for 15 years. He was elected as a steward, then as chief steward for his property, then in 2008 was elected as a rank-and-file member of the UNITE HERE Local 75 executive board.

Some highlights:

Unifor raiding

The exact same day as they left the CLC … obviously it was premeditated for quite a while … at the least the last couple of months this has been their plan.

Dias’ raid is a flop – gets 5 out of 24 hotels

We weren’t expecting a majority of our union staff to leave our office and go to an opposing union, being able to have that access to our members … Of those 24 hotels that were attempted to be raided by Unifor – 17 of the hotels stuck together with UNITE HERE

Of 24 hotels that Unifor attempted to raid, 17 stayed with UNITE HERE Local 75

… there were votes at some, 5 of which decided to leave us, unfortunately, and there are two hotels where the boxes are sealed by the labour board currently.

Local 75 is a diverse, grass-roots union

In Toronto we have workers from 80 to 90 countries, who come from all over the globe, the majority are immigrants, people of colour … We’re a grass roots organization, we’re led by the workers. Myself, as a worker, we are the leaders of the organization. This doesn’t come from the top down. We’re not a corporation. We have the ability to have a voice, to have a vote, and that’s a little bit unique to us, sadly, when really it should be like that all across unions, across the world – workers’ power – right?

Trusteeship was asked for by the Local leadership

This was not something that was a brash, quick decision by our International. This was a long time coming. The executive board asked back in December 2016 to invoke the trusteeship because at that point our former president was just constantly making decisions unilaterally without respecting the democratic voice of the governing body, which is the elected executive board members – all rank-and-file members from within our hotels and food service … Three quarters of the executive asked for trusteeship in December 2016, we asked again in April 2017, it was imposed in January 2018.

Complaints of racism against former leaders

There was a lot of racism structurally within our local office in regards to demotions, promotions, hiring people, suspensions … when complaints or allegations were brought up it wasn’t investigated properly …Our leaders, our organizers who had really built our union, a lot of rank-and-file organizers who had come up to be a part of the labour movement and better peoples’ lives in the last couple of decades … they were being treated like criminals.

Listen to the complete interview:

 

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