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Latest News - November 2011

November 11, 2011
Clerical union workers fight with UAW over job reductions
Source: The Detroit News
By: Bryce G. Hoffman

Detroit— The United Auto Workers is locked in a bitter labor dispute, but this time the union is not fighting for the workers.

It's fighting with them.

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.

The UAW disputes that. King said the union's membership rolls have shrunk dramatically during the past few decades, reducing its dues income and forcing cutbacks at all levels. He said the UAW has eliminated many of its own members' positions since the economic crisis began three years ago.

"The UAW has taken major cost-cutting actions to bring its expenditures in line with its membership size," he said. "The UAW leadership met with OPEIU and informed the union that, after an analysis, the number of OPEIU employees needed to be reduced as well."

King said the UAW "negotiated a humane way to reduce the clerical staff" through buyout and early retirement programs that were more generous than its own members have received.

"Unfortunately, many OPEIU members who are eligible for retirement or voluntary separation chose not to take the incentive and instead remained working. Since the number of OPEIU reduced did not match the goal, layoffs are necessary," he said. "The last thing the UAW wants to do is lay off employees, but we have a fiduciary responsibility to our dues-paying members and cannot carry more clerical staff than justified by the size our membership."

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."

OPEIU Local 494 President Kris Bucci said she spoke with King on Thursday, but was unable to persuade him to stop the planned layoffs.

She said King did agree to extend the deadline for voluntary buyouts by one month to give workers more time to leave on their own. "Our main goal is no layoffs, which is what the UAW preaches," Bucci said. "Hopefully, the UAW doesn't want to be known as a job eliminator."

 

 


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