Saturday, May 24, 2008

Fight Back Still Needed as Tentative Agreement Reached in American Axle Strike

Fight back still needed as tentative agreement reached in American Axle strike

By Bryan G. Pfeifer
Published May 21, 2008 10:19 PM

May 21—Following a courageous and heroic workers’ strike at American Axle & Manufacturing, the United Auto Workers International and the local’s bargaining teams came to a tentative contract agreement the evening of May 16.

The AAM strike, which since Feb. 26 has lasted for more than three months, is the eighth-longest strike in UAW history,

Informational meetings were held in every local almost immediately after the tentative agreement, and voting took place May 19 for Local 846 at the Cheektowaga and Tonawanda, N.Y., plants; Local 2093 in Three Rivers; and Local 262 at the Detroit Forge. According to preliminary reports from union leaders, the tentative agreement has been approved by all of the locals voting on it thus far. The decisive vote will take place at Local 235 in Hamtramck, Mich., on May 22.

Why the rush to judgment?

The leadership of UAW President Ron Gettelfinger has been pushing for a concessionary contract even before the strike began. They even canceled a massive solidarity demonstration April 18 to weaken and undermine the support that was needed to strengthen the strike.

With 30 General Motors Corp. plants idled because of the AAM strike, two local unions fighting supplementary agreements also struck against GM. The fight-back mood of tens of thousands of UAW and other union rank-and-file members internationally, as well as community supporters, hasn’t been seriously organized by the UAW International to fight American Axle on a serious mass scale.

The tactics and strategy of the International leadership flow from its deadly ideology. Kevin Donovan, UAW Region 9 Assistant Director, reflects the orientation of the Gettelfinger strategy to help management become more “market-competitive.”

In approving this tentative agreement, “We put ourselves in a very good competitive position with this contract to bid on future work at Cheektowaga,” said Donovan in the May 20 edition of Business First.

American Axle CEO Richard Dauch and his Wall Street backers are laughing all the way to the bank. Initial reports claim American Axle will be robbing at least $185 million from the workers, their loved ones and their communities with the 2008-2012 contract, if approved.

In Detroit, an informational meeting was held May 18 for Local 235, the largest local with more than 1,900 members, less than 48 hours after the tentative agreement was reached. At the packed meeting, strikers were angry over the agreement’s details and what the majority saw as a too-quick timeline for voting, which was scheduled for the next day. After much resistance from the strikers, voting for Local 235 members only was pushed to May 22, and more informational meetings were scheduled leading up to the vote.

Even the extended time is not enough to dissect and analyze pages and pages of life-and-death issues within the tentative agreement. Doesn’t the rank and file have a democratic right to study their tentative contract? Why is the International not making this time available?

‘Vote it down!’

The majority of Local 235 members leaving the May 18 meeting were angry at what they called a horrendous and precedent-setting tentative agreement.

“I would vote it down,” said Byrone Lanna, an African-American worker who began working for GM in 1976 and once worked at American Axle for three years.

The tentative contract agreement is rife with steep concessions and givebacks.

According to a leaflet entitled “Is This The Best We Can Do?” which is being distributed at the Local 235 union hall by Shifting Gears, a newsletter by and for the UAW/AAM rank and file, some of the most onerous provisions for the 2008-2012 contract include:

• Wages would be slashed on average $10 outright for current workers and wages would be at different scales between plants. At Detroit Gear, production workers would range from $14.35 to $18.50 per hour, at Cheektowaga $14.35 to $16.50 and at Three Rivers $10 to $18;

• For the first time, workers would have to pay health care co-pays and deductibles;

•Only the Detroit gear and axle plant and Cheektowaga would be in the master agreement; the Three Rivers plant would be on its own;

• A no-strike clause would, in effect, take these locals out of the Big Three-UAW umbrella;

• New hires in Detroit would start at $11.50 with no cost-of-living adjustments for the life of the contract and no dental coverage for the first three years of the contract;

• The closing of the Detroit Forge and Tonawanda, N.Y., plants within the next year;

• Pensions frozen as of January 2009 and the implementation of a 401K plan at that time;

• The combination of skilled trades into only four classifications and reduction of their hourly wage;

• Overtime would kick in after a 40-hour week, not an 8-hour day;

• Limited and underfunded Supplemental Unemployment Benefit fund of $18 million;

• Various buyout packages up to $140,000, which are subject to being taxed;

• Buy-downs of up to $105,000 over three years as workers’ pay is reduced to the new lower rate. But not all workers would see this much because this amount depends on the amount of wage reduction a worker is forced into. Furthermore, laid-off workers would have their buy-downs reduced to exclude their unemployment pay.

This is only a partial list.

Lanna says there’s an alternative to these massive concessions: resistance. He says his co-workers can vote no, continue striking and regroup to fight for a solid contract. Lanna and others opposing the agreement suggest building a massive, internationalist labor-community support network, organizing protests at the plant and throughout the community, rallies, increasing strike pay, and stopping scab trucks en masse, among other tactics.

Says Lanna: “No one should take a pay cut at this company. It’s not right. The workers don’t have to go for this tentative agreement,”

Milt Neidenberg, David Sole, Jerry Goldberg, Martha Grevatt and Alan Pollock contributed to this report.
Articles copyright 1995-2008 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Page printed from:

No comments: