March 7, 2014

At the UAW Constitutional Convention, June, 2014 – 


First and second tier workers at the Big 3 and beyond have been put in a box which they can climb out of.  UAW Skilled Trades workers were in that box years ago, and they climbed out of it, sort of. 

The problem:  skilled trades in the auto plants were always in the minority – even more so in assembly plants, less so in machining or stamping operations – but always in the minority.  Come contract time and a tentative settlement, the membership then has to vote.  That settlement features agreements that apply to everybody, and then there are specialized agreements that pertain to just skilled trades – like tool allowances and the like.  Say the skilled trades vote no because the tool allowance is too small, but the majority of the facility is satisfied with all the general features of the agreement and votes yes.  Skilled trades under these rules don’t have a chance. 

Somewhere along the way (which is another story) the Constitution was amended to change the way contracts were ratified.  The Constitution was amended to include the right of “separate ratification.”  In the example above where the members approve a contract overall, but trades rejects, the right of separate ratification kicks in.  Management is informed that the contract ratification is incomplete.  The UAW bargainers get to work, compile a list of the items in the skilled trades portion of the agreement that were the cause for the skilled trades “no” vote, and return to the negotiating table to see about correcting those rejected, specifically skilled trades agreements.   Once corrected, depending on who you talk to, there’s another ratification vote, or it’s considered “ratified” outright.  If the skilled trades portion of the agreement is ratified, then the whole agreement is considered ratified.  [This is not the way it went down during the ratification vote on the 2011 UAW-Chrysler National Agreement, which is a shameful story that will be the subject of a future blogpost]. 

The Constitution actually protects the right of separate ratification not only for the Skilled Trades minority, but for Office Workers, Engineers and Technicians as well.  See Article 19:   The theory is the same: specialized agreements involving sub-groups.  When the UAW and various companies including the Detroit 3 negotiated new terms and special agreements for a sub-group of workers who are considered second tier, they created new candidates for the right of separate ratification.  While these tiered agreements have been around for a decade or more, the UAW International Executive Board hasn’t sought to update the Constitution to incorporate this new reality. 
So it’s going to have to be up to local union leadership and/or rank and file workers to work to change the way contracts are ratified.  It happened for skilled trades, now it must happen for separate groups that used to make up the one group: “production.”   UAW members will have to (1) run for Convention Delegate, and (2) submit their resolutions to a vote at their local membership meeting – by mid-April, when the resolutions are due downtown. 

There are some who've reacted to the proposal by saying they don’t want to put anything in the Constitution that would make 2nd tier a permanent feature of factory life (at least until all the “traditional” workers retired).  Yet, what better way to give 2nd tier workers the power to hold the negotiators accountable to them, than by separate ratification?  This way the second (or minority tier) won’t have a “2nd tier” contract imposed on them, and the tier 1 workers won’t be in the box of approving an agreement they like while involuntarily imposing an inferior agreement on their 2nd tier brothers and sisters (or sons and daughters).  Inserting it into the Constitution – a formidable but worthwhile task at the upcoming convention – will hasten the day when the UAW can rid itself of “two tiers.”  Passing a resolution like the one featured here – which has already been a subject of conversation and debate among autoworkers in and out of the Autoworker Caravan – may be the best way to prepare for contract negotiations in 2015.  

Frank Hammer
March 7, 2014

Amendment: Article 19 Section 3 & 4
Strengthen and Expand the Right of Separate Ratification

· Whereas, the UAW membership exercises its democratic will by voting by secret ballot on the ratification of tentative collective bargaining agreements,

· Whereas, Article 19, Section 3 of the UAW Constitution protects groups for which distinct bargaining agreements are negotiated which apply only to those specific groups, such as skilled trades or office workers, by establishing for those groups the Right of Separate Ratification,

· Whereas, the Right of Separate Ratification has been an important tool historically to increase the union’s leverage at the bargaining table,

· Whereas, the Right to Separate Ratification was violated and thereby severely weakened during the 2011 national Chrysler contract ratification when the International Executive Board (IEB) over-ruled the “no” vote by the Chrysler skilled trades membership and declared the contract, “ratified” over their objections,

· Whereas, the UAW in recent years has negotiated to create new groups such as “entry level” or “2nd tier” workers with distinct bargaining agreements pertaining only to those groups,

 Whereas, the UAW’s efforts to eradicate two-tier and multi-tier pay and benefits in favor of equal pay for equal work will be strengthened by instituting the Right of Separate Ratification for lower tier workers,  

Be It Resolved that, Article 19, Section 3 of the UAW Constitution be strengthened and expanded by amending it as follows:

Upon application to and approval of the International Executive Board, a ratification procedure shall be adopted wherein apprenticeble skilled trades and related workers, office workers, production groups identified as “entry level,” “traditional,” or “tier 1,” tier 2,” etc., and any other similar production subgroup where applicable, engineers, and technicians would vote separately on contractual matters common to all and, in the same vote on separate ballots, vote on  those matters which relate exclusively to their group. 

Be It Resolved That, Article 19, Section 4 of the UAW Constitution be amended to read as follows:

National agreements and supplements thereof shall be ratified by the Local Unions involved.  In the event a majority in a group(s) as described in Article 19 Section 3 vote to reject tentative contractual provisions pertaining specifically to their group(s), a special meeting(s) of the members of the group(s) will be held to identify those specific provisions and to inform the bargaining representatives of the reason(s) for their rejection. 

Negotiated changes to those identified provisions will be put to a secret ballot vote by the group(s) affected.  If the members of the group vote to ratify, the tentative collective bargaining agreement of which those provisions are a part, if otherwise supported by the membership, shall be considered ratified. 

Finally, be it resolved,

That the Local Union transmit this resolution to all UAW Locals and Retiree Chapters in our Region and Sub-council urging its adoption.

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