Bankole: UAW must use strike fund to make workers whole
Jennifer Taylor McDowell, 51, who worked at the Detroit-Hamtramck GM Assembly Plant, died while taking part in the UAW strike against General Motors. McDowell, a Detroiter and a veteran, had moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to work at the plant there. She suffered a heart attack and died on the picket line according to her sister Deidra Washington.
Her story and that of others who are economically suffocated by the strike against GM should be a reason for the UAW to use its $700 million plus strike fund to make their striking workers whole for wages lost.
It is easy to pass the blame around about who is solely responsible for a strike that has been damaging to the lives of workers and their families. From a UAW leadership whose moral authority has been severely weakened because of the ongoing federal corruption probe, to criticism that General Motors hasn’t negotiated in good faith — all these issues are culpable factors.
But right now, the UAW leadership needs to step up for its members and compensate them financially as it examines a proposed tentative agreement this week regarding their contract with GM. That means during this period of considering a tentative agreement, their workers should be reimbursed for all that they have lost financially.
The union should ensure that McDowell’s death is not in vain by paying her family for all the wages she was entitled to when she was on the front line of justice for the UAW.
The strike has had unbearable consequences for workers — some unable to pay their mortgages, others having to look to food pantries for survival. Some workers faced the threat of eviction from their homes because they have been grossly underpaid — $275 a week — for being on the picket line.
Tales of UAW workers having to draw from their savings, while others living on peanut butter with jelly sandwiches have been the subject of media coverage of a strike that the UAW says is not over as it negotiates a tentative agreement with members of its governing council. It is time for the union bosses at solidarity house to recognize that the fate of their workers is more important than anything else. The well-being of their workers should take priority over the power plays that have taken place between them and GM’s top executives.
Leaving workers without adequate compensation for these financial hardships makes the union appear indifferent toward its members. Strengthening families has been one of the mantras of the UAW, and it should embrace what it preaches.
“Since the GM strike began, I have been asked by countless number of strikers facing eviction or foreclosure why they were not eligible for unemployment benefits, when it was GM who caused the strike by refusing to bargain in good faith,” Rick Martin, a labor and civil rights lawyer.
Martin, a former UAW Local 600 president, had long wanted the UAW to increase the strike pay to $750 because it “will force GM to use its historic profits to reach an agreement that is fair, just, and equitable to all UAW workers. Stopping GM’s betrayal is not only in the interests of the UAW, but all Americans who saved GM from extinction.”
Ron Glotta, another attorney who has represented UAW workers in the past said they should look to history for a blueprint.
“Remember, in the 1970 GM strike that lasted 67 days, involving over 350,000 strikers, the UAW emptied the $120 million strike fund to win the strike,” Glotta said.
The UAW can do what it did before. Empty the current strike fund for workers.
“The action this week moved up the increase to $275 for all striking workers early and allowed GM and Aramark workers to obtain part-time work and get full strike pay,” UAW public relations official Brian Rothenberg said in an email.
What good is the strike fund if it won’t be used to help workers who have suffered so much?
The right to a living wage has been a bedrock principle of the American labor movement. But labor seems to be failing that principle itself when their workers have been left economically bleeding during their strike period. That is no strategy. That hurts the UAW, not GM.
If you care about your workers, then stand up for them when they need you most.
Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at 11:00 a.m. weekdays on Superstation 910AM.