Their employer has nearly $1 billion in the bank, owns a golf resort, and is a major shareholder of not one but two U.S. auto companies. Given that, one would think their employer wouldn't treat its employees like the very corporations their bosses often do battle with. However, since 2009, the union workers have been subjected to cut backs and are now facing even more layoffs.
Members of the Office Professional Employees International Union, which represents clerical and janitorial workers at Solidarity House and other UAW offices around the country, say the UAW has pushed them to take major concessions during the past couple of years and is now insisting on layoffs.
But the workers are fighting back. They have picketed Solidarity House. On Thursday, they held a meeting to decide what to do next.
"Bob King always talks about creative problem-solving, but the only creative problem solution he's offering is more layoffs," said Audrey McKenna, vice president of OPEIU Local 494, which represents UAW office employees in Detroit. "We know times are tough, but they're spending like the 'Housewives of Beverly Hills.'"
She and other union members said the UAW has been hiring a small army of consultants for its organizing campaign against foreign-owned automakers. They also accuse King and other UAW officials of spending big on foreign travel and remodeling projects at Solidarity House.
According to the UAW's financial reports, at the end of 2010, the United Auto Workers' headquarters brought in more than $274 million from its local unions and other income, but it spent $275 million—including nearly $10.5 million on political activities and lobbying and sent over $3 million to the AFL-CIO.
On top of the extensive list of properties the UAW owns, the UAW did pump over $200,000 in remodeling its headquarters in 2010. Moreover, according to Reuters, over the last decade (even as it was stripping its unionized workers of wages and benefits), the UAW was dumping over $39 million into its resort in upper Michigan.
Over the past decade, the UAW has also been forced to provide about $39 million in loans to the Walter and May Reuther Family Education Centre and Black Lake Golf Course, known collectively as Black Lake, to keep them open.
"I don't even know why we call them loans," UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams said in an interview in July. "I mean, it isn't like they pay them back."
In 2000, former UAW president Stephen Yokich opened the golf course. At the time, the union's membership was less than half its 1979 peak of about 1.5 million members. The union's bimonthly magazine, Solidarity, began to publish putting tips for members.
The UAW's Bob King, citing his union's ever-shrinking membership numbers, says the cutbacks to his union workers are necessary and disputes the contention that UAW bosses have been spending extravagantly.
The OPEIU, however, disagrees:
The OPEIU says its ranks at the UAW have already been cut more than 35 percent since 2009. About 260 employees remain, and the union says the UAW wants to cut another 100 positions.
In 2010, the OPEIU agreed to reopen its contract and accept $4.5 million in wage and benefit cuts to avoid layoffs. Earlier this year, the workers agreed to work an additional two and a half hours each week with no increase in pay, again to avoid layoffs.
"We keep giving and giving, but they keep coming back at us with the threat of layoffs," said one worker who did not wish to be identified because he feared for his job. "With the car companies, they talk about shared sacrifice. But with us, there's no shared sacrifice."
Back in 2009, as the UAW was acquiring ownership of the bankrupted General Motors and Chrysler, despite the office workers voting to against cuts, UAW bosses unilaterally imposed layoff, as well as higher health insurance costs.
The UAW has lost so many members that it is cutting at least 120 staff positions in an effort to balance its budget, UAW sources said.
"We've got to downsize," a union source said. "It may not end there."
In a stunning role reversal, Gettelfinger told UAW employees Thursday that he would impose the terms of a concessionary contract that they voted down last month. That means reduced benefits for the union's own retirees and requires each UAW employee to take a two-week unpaid furlough or give up their 401(k) matching contribution next year.
As the OPEIU workers continue to fight their UAW bosses, a visit to the OPEIU's website has a page ironically entitled Need a Union? that states:
By joining together with your co-workers you can build an employee organization that gives you a real say over your job, puts you on more equal footing with your employer and ensures a better economic future for you and your co-workers.
Apparently, the OPEIU's brand of unionization doesn't work when trying to fight an employer like the UAW.
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776
Cross-posted on LaborUnionReport.com.