When: September 6th, 2013
Where: Cass Corridor Commons
4605 Cass Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48201
East Michigan Environmental Action Council, 5E, Heru, and the American Indian Health and Family Services invite you to the film screening of, Our Fires Still Burn: The Native American Experience, on September 6th, 2013. The showing will take place in the D. Blair Theater of The Cass Corridor Commons.
Focusing on the lives and experiences of the Native/Indigenous community in the Midwest, Our Fires Still Burn is a one hour documentary that works to dispel the myth that American Indians have disappeared from the United States. The narrative that Native and Indigenous peoples no longer exist in the US has been perpetrated in many forms since the beginning of colonization in the US, with perhaps the most famous example being the book (and movie), The Last of the Mohicans. The narrative usually argues something along the lines that because Native peoples are now dead (or are actively dying), we need non-Native peoples to "save and recover" (read; loot) Native artifacts (very often including actual bones of human beings). Another strand of the narrative argues that names like Washington Red Skins are actually compliments that honor long dead tribes rather than the offensive insults that Native/Indigenous peoples say they are.
Our Fires Still Burns argues that the narrative that Native/Indigenous peoples are dead is harmful in that it invisibilizes and makes unnecessary the voices of the very much alive Native/Indigenous community. But as Our Fire Still Burns shows, Native and Indigenous peoples continue to persist, heal from the past, confront the challenges of today, keep their culture alive, and make great contributions to society.
The film viewing of Our Fires Still Burn will appeal to native and non-Native alike, and will be followed by a question and answer session featuring many of the people appearing in the film, as well as film director Audrey Geyer. Ms. Geyer is an independent video producer and director whose programs have been broadcasted locally and nationally on PBS. She is the founder and current executive director of Visions, an independent video production company local in Metro Detroit. Visions work focuses on creating documentaries that tell the stories of communities that are underrepresented in mainstream media.
As East Michigan Environmental Action Council co-director, Diana Copeland says, the most important thing to do right now in light of various attacks on marginalized communities in Detroit is to build community responses to those attacks, "Conversations that happen where we can begin to get to know each other are essential and will only make our communities stronger."
Contact: Scott Slawson, (814) 899-3108
The members of UE Locals 506 and 618 ratified the first four-year contract agreement with their new employer, Wabtec. The ratification comes on the back of 128 days of negotiations. This contract reaches an agreement on terms of employment, including pay, benefits, hours, leave, and health and safety policies.
“The UE workers building Wabtec locomotives are the best in the world,” said Scott Slawson, UE Local 506 President. “The grit and discipline of this workforce has been on display throughout this difficult process, but there is no doubt that these workers will prove their worth with their new employer as they have for generations.
“From day one of this process, our members have been committed to protecting a healthy and safe work environment, while supporting our families and local economy—this agreement sets a course that will provide Wabtec an opportunity to grow and succeed in Erie County.”
About UE Local 506
"UE" is the abbreviation for United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, a democratic national union representing workers in a wide variety of sectors. UE Local 506, which represents 1,700 hourly workers at the Wabtec plant in Lawrence Park, Pennsylvania, is a rank-and-file-union whose members set the policies of the union and make all of the decisions of importance in a democratic and collective manner. UE Local 506 has represented GE workers since 1937. To learn more about UE Local 506 visit www.uelocal506.com
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(July 11, 2019)
UE members, leaders, and staff attended a packed Labor-Environment forum on Saturday, June 8 at the historic Pump House in Homestead, just outside of Pittsburgh.
Over a hundred local union leaders, members, retirees and representatives of community and environmental organizations spent the afternoon discussing the Green New Deal and how to work together to demand that this be a worker and union centered new deal. State Representatives Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato and US Congressman Mike Doyle were also in attendance.
Joe Uehlein, President of Labor Network for Sustainability and former Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department, gave the keynote address. He was followed by four responses from representatives of labor, young activists, and the town of Braddock, a Mon Valley mill town. Participants then broke up into 10 groups to discuss how to bring a labor-environmental alliance to life, and re-convened for report backs.
The four responders were Rosemary Bezy, vice president of USW Local 1557 at the Clairton Works; Chris Petrone, legislative director of Operating Engineers Local 66; Tina Doose, president of Braddock Borough Council; and Eva Resnick-Day, community organizer for the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 Campaign. The event was emceed by Mike Stout, president of the Allegheny County chapter of the Izaak Walton League and the last grievance chair for USW Local 1397 at the now-defunct Homestead Mill.
UE's General Executive Board issued a statement on May 30 urging UE members to “Get Active for Good Union Jobs in a Renewable Energy Economy.”
More photos by retired UE NEWS Editor Al Hart are available on UE's Facebook page
On Thursday, UE Locals 506 and 618 signed a tentative agreement for a four-year contract with Wabtec, to cover 1700 workers at the former GE Transportation facility.
The agreements maintains current wage rates for existing Wabtec employees, and provides for a ten-year progression to full wage rates for all newly hired employees. The company has made a contractual commitment to create new work equivalent to 100 full-time employees by the end of the contract.
UE members will vote on the contract next Wednesday. More details on the settlement, informational meetings for Local 506 and 618 members, and the ratification vote are available on UE Local 506's website and Facebook page.
- UE, Allies Take Message to Wabtec Shareholders: “One Union, One Tier”
- UE Members Fight for Erie Community in Nine-Day Strike Against Corporate Greed
- If Wabtec Has Its Way, Erie Will Pay for CEO's $16 Million Bonus
- Erie Strike Gets National Attention, Widespread Support
- UE Locals 506, 618 Strike "For the Jobs Our Communities Deserve" in Erie
Johana Medina, a 25-year-old transgender asylum seeker from El Salvador, died at an El Paso, Texas, hospital this weekend after spending seven weeks in immigration jail, according to several LGBTQ
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ SAYS CONGRESSMEMBERS WERE BROUGHT TO TEARS AS DREAM AND PROMISE ACT PASSED IN HOUSE: 'WHAT A MOMENT. THIS IS WHY WE FIGHT'
On Tuesday, the House Chamber felt a little more like a "rock concert," as New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it, describing the moment Congress and crowd members erupted into cheers as the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 was pa
Statement of the UE General Executive Board
The UE is committed to building strong, democratic, rank-and-file unions to enable workers to be informed and active participants in our communities.
The 2020 presidential primary and general elections will be of historic importance for workers, our union, the labor movement, and our country.
The issues that will define these elections are already becoming clear. Union members and locals need to inform ourselves about the issues and the candidates, their records and visions for the community and the country.
We encourage all UE members and locals, and the broader labor movement, to discuss the issues at stake in the upcoming primary and general elections: worker, civil, and immigrant rights; Medicare for All single-payer healthcare; climate change; and protecting our nation from corporate greed and the military-industrial complex. We also encourage discussion about which candidates best exemplify UE policies.
Delegates arriving to the upcoming August 25-29 76th UE National Convention in Pittsburgh should be prepared to debate, discuss, and vote on resolutions outlining a working-class vision for the future of our union, the labor movement, our country, and humanity itself.
Statement of the UE General Executive Board
Ninety-seven percent of peer-reviewed science says our use of fossil fuels contributes significantly to greenhouse gases and climate change, which is taking an increasing toll on our economy, our homes, our health and our lives.
The question confronting working people and our unions is not whether our nation transforms our manufacturing, transportation, production, and distribution from fossil fuels to renewables, but when and, more importantly, how we take control of the situation to ensure that the transition is done in ways that benefit workers and our communities rather than corporations and the wealthy.
This move to renewables must be centered on the needs of workers and must be fair. Workers do not cause these crises and those workers and families affected by the change should be guaranteed equivalent compensation, benefits, and jobs and a workplace where the right to organize unions is free from any employer interference.
This is also an opportunity to finally provide a measure of justice for workers and communities who have historically been exploited, marginalized, or neglected by corporations and our government, including communities of color and front-line communities who have borne the brunt of fossil-fuel corporate greed. We must ensure that these workers and communities reap the benefits of a fair transition providing good family sustaining union jobs.
Moving our nation away from fossil fuels will not happen overnight, nor in isolation from other changes to our economy and we must not delay. In the middle of the last century, our democracy quickly retooled the productive capacity of our nation to meet the existential threat of Nazism and changed the face of US manufacturing forever. The threat posed by climate change demands a similar response to provide a sustainable environment and economy for future generations. The UN Intergovernmental Policy on Climate Change, the Paris Accords, and the Green New Deal resolution in Congress provide us with tools and frameworks for this future that embrace more robust public power and municipal initiatives. It is the innovation and creative productive capacity of our communities which must drive this movement.
The UE General Executive Board encourages UE members and locals to participate fully in discussions about the challenge of climate change and the eventual replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy, and participate in the movements and organizations proposing solutions. We have an incredible opportunity to transform our society to a more worker-supportive and community-controlled economy and nation. We must not waste this opportunity.Tags: UE Statements
On Friday, May 24, Local 1107 Vice President Joni Anderson, Local 1121 Financial Secretary Charlene Winchell, Local 1161 President Sharry Neidfeldt and Field Organizer Jason Whisler took the UE policy of “Healthcare for All” to the office of Congressman Ron Kind. Kind is a Democrat whose campaign funds come in large part from the health insurance, pharmaceutical, and medical device industries, and who has not signed on to HR 1384, the Medicare for All single-payer healthcare bill supported by UE and many other unions.
The UE members met with the congressman’s chief of staff and one of his health care policy chiefs for about 30 minutes. Anderson spoke about her sister who died because she couldn't afford an x-ray, and Niedfeldt spoke about how she spends about half of her total income on health care.
When Winchell discussed how her health plan has a $5,000 deductible, Kind’s staff people thought she meant out-of-pocket limit, but she corrected them, pointing out that other charges like the $40 co-pay for any doctor visit come on top of the $5,000.
Kind’s chief of staff, Loren Kannanberg, said that with the current makeup of the Senate, Medicare for All will not pass. He said that Congressman Kind does support some form of universal health care and knows that is the direction that things will “eventually” be going. Whisler pushed back, arguing that if the congressman supports it in principle, why not sign on as a co-sponsor to HR 1384. The staff agreed to pass UE members’ concerns along to the congressman.
Following up on UE members’ attendance at Congresswoman Gwen Moore’s “Congressional Cafe” earlier this month, a delegation consisting of Local 1135 President Malik Grant, Local 1111 Retiree Association Vice-President Ted Krukowski and Western Region President Carl Rosen met with the congresswoman’s Milwaukee staff on Tuesday, May 28. The UE members with her labor union person, Robert Hansen, her Medicare specialist, Hope DeVougas, and her healthcare person, Anna Mercer.
Grant talked about how much healthcare costs eat up his pay even though he has employer-provided health insurance and Rosen added that the union is finding the same pattern with members in all types of workplaces. Krukowski talked about how health care costs are increasing for retirees because Medicare needs to be improved to fully cover health expenses, including prescriptions. Both Grant and Krukowski pointed out that private insurance plans are no longer working to keep health care affordable.
Rosen emphasized that UE expects Congresswoman Moore to sign on to HR 1384, and that as union members we know that you don't start compromising before negotiations begin. He noted that the failure of Democrats to push for real solutions is part of what has created a bad political situation at the national level, and that there is no way to avoid taking on the insurance and pharmaceutical companies if we want to create an affordable healthcare system.Left to right: Robert Hansen, Hope DeVougas, Malik Grant, Anna Mercer, Carl Rosen, Ted Krukowski
Former UE General Secretary-Treasurer Amy Newell will be the featured speaker at the inaugural Florence Criley Luncheon at this year’s UE Convention. The luncheon will be held on Monday, August 26 during the lunch recess.
Florence Criley was UE’s first woman International Representative. She was known as a tireless leader of the working class, beating back raids at UE shops, helping members orchestrate strikes, and always looking for new organizing opportunities. She was one of the founders of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and was also a fighter for the rights of people of color.
Amy Newell served as UE’s General Secretary-Treasurer from 1985 to 1994. She was the first woman to serve as a national officer of a U.S. manufacturing union. Prior to her election as Secretary-Treasurer she served for 11 years as a UE Field Organizer. Newell’s parents, Charles and Ruth Newell, were both UE organizers.
This gathering will honor Sister Criley and raise money to develop leadership skills among UE’s women members by sending them to the union women summer schools held around the country each year.
All UE members are welcome to attend this event, but space will be limited. Tickets are $20.00 each. More information about the event, including information on how to purchase tickets, can be found online at ueunion.org/convention_crileylunch
- “We Can’t Give Up, We Can Turn the Corner”: a 2017 Women’s History Month interview with Amy Newell
On Saturday, May 18, UE members from Milwaukee-area Locals 1135 and 1172 attended a “Congressional cafe” hosted by Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Milwaukee to urge the congresswoman to support HR 1384, the Medicare For All Act of 2019.Local 1135 President Malik Grant shares that he has to spend nearly 60 percent of his total income on health care costs at Congresswoman Gwen Moore's “Congressional cafe”
Local 1135 President Malik Grant explained that he makes around three times the minimum wage, has a health insurance plan through his employer, but still spends nearly 60 percent of his total income on health care costs. He told the congresswoman and other cafe attendees that he supports Medicare for All and would much rather have seven or eight percent of his income go to Medicare, and be covered for all his health care needs.
UE Field Organizer Jason Whisler asked Moore to support HR 1834 as the real reform that working people need. He urged her to join 109 other progressive Democratic House members who support the bill, and tell health insurance companies and their lobbyists to take a hike.
The UE speakers' remarks were met with the most applause of any speakers at the event, according to Whisler. Three of the four other speakers on healthcare also spoke in support of Medicare For All.
Although Moore has not yet committed to supporting to Medicare For All, UE members will continue to educate her about the reality of how much the current system costs working people, and have a meeting with one of her policy advisors scheduled for next week. On the other side of the state, members of Locals 1107, 1121, and 1161 will be meeting with Representative Ron Kind’s office later this week. Kind is also a Democrat who has not yet signed on to Medicare for All.
In addition to Grant and Whisler, the “cafe” was attended by Local 1172 President John Fakler, Local 1135 Chief Steward Shantel Reed, and Local 1172 Vice President Jesus Rodriguez.Tags: Medicare for All
UE joins the rest of the progressive labor movement in mourning the passing of ATU President Larry Hanley earlier this month.
Hanley addressed UE's 2015 Convention, sharing with UE members his admiration for UE and gratitude to UE for publishing Labor’s Untold Story, which his union uses extensively.
Like UE, Hanley believed the labor movement should be concerned with all issues that affect the working class. Speaking to the UE convention, Hanley discussed the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 which sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. The shooting of Brown occurred at a time when the St. Louis Transit Authority was using racism against the ATU local there, he said, trying to divide white mechanics from black drivers. This is institutional racism, he said.
Speaking on the 2016 presidential race, Hanley said “The only real energy has been for Bernie Sanders,” and warned that the labor movement must not be used to “shut down the only candidate who shares our values.” On the wars of the past 15 years, he said, “We would have no war if the politicians had been honest about how much it would cost the American people,” both in the trillions of dollars expended but also in the loss of lives of our troops.
Former UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend, who is currently the director of field mobilization for ATU, wrote a moving remembrance of Brother Hanley for Labor Notes:
Larry will be remembered by a lot of people for a long time. The members will mourn, and the employers will breathe a momentary sigh of relief. He was truly a trade union force of nature, the kind of leader largely absent from today’s staggered and dazed labor movement.
Larry Hanley saw his role as hell-raiser and revitalizer—not just a custodian of the union that he came to lead, but an agitator for more aggressive trade unionism on all fronts. If you ever met him, you remember him.
Chanting “One Union, One Tier” and carrying a banner reading “Don't Derail Our Future,” over 50 UE members and allies picketed Wabtec's shareholder meeting in downtown Pittsburgh on Friday, May 17. Wabtec continues to demand a “two-tier” wage structure at the Erie locomotive plant where members of UE Locals 506 and 618 are in negotiations for a new contract.
Under Wabtec's two-tier proposal, new hires — or anyone recalled after more than a year on layoff — would be stuck permanently on a lower wage scale, making as little as 60 percent of the worker next to them. In this multi-generational plant where many workers have parents and grandparents who worked there, UE members are resolved not to sell out future generations of workers, and the economic future of their community.
Local 506 executive board member Matt McCracken that the Erie plant is highly profitable, and that “there’s no reason for them to gut our wages other than just raw corporate greed.”
“They want every new hire to come into that factory at sixty percent” of what current workers make, McCracken said, hitting Wabtec’s two-tier demands. “If they can make $2 billion a year paying me what I make, they can hire someone to work right next to me, pay him the same rate … and make $2 billion per year.”
Rosanne Barker of the Northwest Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation praised Erie UE members’ solidarity with the community. “They have given millions of dollars to the community. They have done projects to benefit the children, the veterans, others unions. They really know the meaning of solidarity and that it why our unions are here with them today.”
Retired Wabtec worker and former Local 610 chief steward Kent Buchholz, who helped lead the 6½ month strike against concessions demanded by Wabtec (then Wabco) in 1981-2, told the crowd that “it has always been our task and our duty [as trade unionists] to push the message in front of these corporate giants that without a dedicated, good-paying workforce, shareholders don’t share in the profitability of the company, and customers get shortchanged.”
As UE Eastern Region President Donna Morgan was getting up to speak, a black Suburban pulled up across the street with a Wabtec logo. Morgan suggested the picketers give the shareholders “a nice wave” which prompted a round of “shame on you!” chants from the crowd.
“The reason we’re here, in a very small sentence, is: greed, greed, and greed,” Morgan said. “That’s it!”
UE General President Peter Knowlton denounced Wabtec’s demands for two-tier wages as an attack not only on UE members but on the Erie community and the country. He pointed out that of the 32 plants shut down by General Electric in the last 40 years, 30 of them had agreed to two-tier wages and concession bargaining. In these instances, he said, workers who agreed to concessions had not saved jobs, but merely financed the closure of their own plants.
Two-tier wages, Knowlton predicted, would kill not only the Erie community but would kill the company itself — a prediction backed up by a story about wages on NPR’s Morning Edition the following Monday, which reported that the two-tier wage structure pushed by many companies “proved to be a disaster for morale. It created friction among workers on the factory floor and resulted in poor-quality work. The three big automakers discarded the system, and others followed.”
Local 506 and 618 members received support from across Western Pennsylvania. Members of Erie County United, the Erie County Young Dems and Keystone Progress joined UE members in travelling to Pittsburgh for the picket. Members of Pittsburgh-area UE Locals 610, 625, 667, 690 came out to support Locals 506 and 618. They were also joined by members of other unions: SEIU Healthcare PA, USW District 10 & USW national, the Northwest PA Area Labor Federation, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trade, SAG-AFTRA, AFSCME, SEIU, CWA and the IWW. Many bus drivers, members of ATU Local 85, honked in support as they drove by.
Supporters from the Pittsburgh community came out as well: Pittsburgh United, the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee, Just Harvest, the Battle of Homestead Foundation, Healthcare for All PA, DSA, Socialist Alternative and the Green Party of Allegheny County all joined UE members on the picket line. Retired steelworker and Pittsburgh-area singer-songwriter Mike Stout raised the spirits of the picket line with both original and traditional union songs.
Photos from the picket are available on the UE Facebook page.
Concession demands will “derail” company, local economies, say workers
When: Friday, May 17, 10:30am-12:30pm
Where: The Duquesne Club, 325 6th Avenue, Pittsburgh
For more information contact:
Jonathan Kissam, UE Communications Director
(802) 343 1745 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Wabtec workers will rally at the company's shareholder meeting in downtown Pittsburgh on Friday to protest the company continuing to demand steep wage cuts for new workers, or a “two-tier” wage system, from the Erie workers who build their locomotives.
“These demands represent a failed business model that threatens both Wabtec’s profitability and Erie’s economy,” says Local 506 President Scott Slawson. “The future of advanced manufacturing lies in high-skill workforces with family-sustaining wages like UE members in Erie, not in chasing low wages around the country and around the globe.”
The Erie plant was profitable under the terms of the UE-GE contract, with GE Transportation consistently seeing profits of 16 percent and higher over the past five years. Wabtec has already realized an additional $17 million in profit from the elimination of the defined benefit pension and retiree health insurance for Erie workers.
UE members in Erie are working under the terms of an interim agreement that settled a nine-day strike in March, and which expires on June 3. UE Locals 506 and 618 are currently negotiating with Wabtec for a new contract to cover the workforce in Erie. In May, UE Local 610 settled a contract with Wabtec for workers in Wilmerding and Greensburg which contained no concessions.
“UE members are willing to work with Wabtec to bargain a contract that will keep the company profitable and good jobs in Erie,” says UE Local 618 Business Agent Janet Gray. “But as they demonstrated in February and March of this year, our members are not willing to sell out future generations of Erie workers.”
- 30 -Download this press advisory as a PDF
When 1700 UE members, members of Locals 506 and 618, went on strike for nine days in the bitterly cold Erie winter, they weren’t just fighting for themselves. They were fighting for the future of their community.
On February 25, Wabtec Corporation took over operations of the Erie locomotive plant from General Electric, and immediately demanded a laundry list of concessions, including a two-tier wage structure — that new hires would come in at permanently lower wages, as much as 38 percent lower than what current UE members make.
In this multi-generational plant, where many workers have parents and grandparents who worked for GE, selling out the next generation with a permanent second tier was unacceptable. As banners hung in the Local 506 hall proclaim, “Selling out new hires is not negotiating—it is CANNIBALISM” and “One Union, One Tier.”
If Wabtec thought UE members were going to roll over and take their concessions, they were badly mistaken. UE members in Erie were ready to stand up against corporate greed. On February 26, with the company unwilling to maintain the existing terms while negotiating a new contract, 1700 workers hit the picket lines.
Local 506 President Scott Slawson said, “It’s important to understand that UE members who came before us fought long and hard for the wages, benefits and conditions we have the privilege of working under today. It would be an injustice to their memory if we didn’t fight for our own children and future generations of Erie workers.”No Two Tier, No Forced Overtime
Wabtec’s concession demands weren’t limited to two tiers. The “terms and conditions” that the company imposed on the first day also included forced overtime, combination of job codes, an unworkable grievance procedure, and the ability to use temporary workers for up to 20 percent of the work in the plant.
Local 506 and 618 members have a proud tradition of being active in their community, and value time with their families. They are assistant pastors and church secretaries, little-league coaches and food-shelf volunteers, and take care of children, grandchildren, parents and other relatives. Roger Ratcliff, a Local 506 member who is a youth pastor and Sunday school teacher, said “I work with teenagers and young adults, and making it mandatory for me to work on Sunday would just totally cut me out of their lives.”
Also of concern to UE members was Wabtec’s proposal to not only lower pay rates, but combine job codes — which could lead to people doing jobs for which they aren’t qualified. “It’s a heavy duty, serious-consequences-if-you-mess-up line of work,” powerhouse electrician and Local 506 member Brad McCurdy told the UE NEWS. “If we make a mistake, if we get something wrong … on a good day, maybe we’re just having a building go dark; on a bad day, we don’t go home. It’s that serious.”A Legacy of Corporate Greed
When Wabtec purchased GE Transportation in 2018, members of Locals 506 and 618 expressed optimism that the Pennsylvania-based company would take a different path than the business model GE had been pursuing for over a decade.
In 2013 GE opened a new, non-union facility in Fort Worth, Texas to manufacture locomotives. Although the company initially promised that the Fort Worth plant would only be for “overflow” work, it wasn’t long until the company began using the “competitive” (i.e., low) wages it paid workers in Texas to demand concessions from Erie workers. With each transfer of work from Erie to Fort Worth, the company made vague promises that if the union accepted lower wages and other concessions, they would keep work in Erie. Locals 506 and 618 refused to accept concessions, arguing that the company would move work regardless, and that UE members shouldn’t pay for the move out of their own wages.
For much of the past decades, GE’s business model of moving work to low-wage and non-union plants and demanding concessions from union workers was widely admired in the corporate and political world. GE executives were fawned over by the press, and by Democratic and Republican politicians alike.
Despite the company’s propaganda, this business model has turned out to be a failure, for both the company and the country. The low wages paid at the Fort Worth facility have made it hard to recruit and retain skilled workers, and work done in Forth Worth is regularly shipped to Erie to be repaired by UE members. GE’s stock prices have plummeted in recent years, and the company sold off GE Transportation — thanks to the Erie plant, one of its most profitable divisions — in part because it desperately needed an infusion of cash.The UE Steward System Proves Itself Local 506 Chief Plant Steward Leo Grzegorzewski talking to UE members on the picket line
When negotiations with the company broke down at 2:30 in the morning, Local 506’s system of 107 stewards got the word out to all 1700 members and by 5am the plant was locked down tight.
“The first day was emotional,” said Slawson, describing feeling in the early morning that the negotiators had failed “1700 of our family, and their families. But when you come in two hours later and see a plant that's completely surrounded with picketers ... you realize it wasn't a failure, it was a success.”
Stewards quickly transitioned to serving as picket captains, and the local executive board set up the infrastructure to make sure the picket lines were solid, the community was informed of the issues, and union members would be fed during the duration of the strike. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Daniel Moore reported on the first day of the strike:
In Lawrence Park on Tuesday, there were signs the union was digging in for a long fight. In the union hall, the so-called “strike machinery” — committees overseeing food, outreach, publicity, picket lines and other operations — was in full force.
“I cannot stress for you how important a strong and vibrant steward system” was to the success of this strike, said UE Director of Organization Gene Elk.“For the Jobs Our Communities Deserve”
UE picket signs read “On Strike for the Jobs Our Communities Deserve,” and people in Erie clearly understood how important this struggle was for the whole community.
“Our community was absolutely amazing,” said Slawson. “Other unions reached out, and everyday citizens would swing by McDonalds, buy 100 cheeseburgers and bring them by the line.” The local Polish club provided 600 pieces of chicken. So much food was donated to the strike kitchen that the local unions were able to pass along extra to local food pantries.
Members of other unions and organizations were regular visitors to the picket lines. On Saturday March 2, the teachers’ union and others organized a community rally at the lines — welcome support after Wabtec filed for a court injunction to limit mass picketing the day before. The commander of the local American Legion post wrote a public letter in support of UE members’ struggle.
The Erie community supported UE because UE has a long history of supporting the Erie community. UE members volunteer in a wide variety of community organizations, and raise money for numerous causes. The Sunday before the strike, Local 506 held its annual “Hometown Heroes” bowling tournament to raise money for veterans. Local 506 Sports Committee Chair Matt McCracken told Erie News Now, “Seventeen years, we've raised so far $336,000 for the Erie VA Hospital, money that we would not be able to raise if we were at work right now. If Wabtec had its way, I'd be at work right now."
That solidarity with the community did not stop even when UE members were on the picket lines. When an apartment building near the Local 506 union hall caught fire during the strike, the local unhesitatingly opened its hall to provide shelter for the victims.
Community support was evident in local social media as well. Local 506 produced a series of “UE Is Me” memes, highlighting the many roles that UE members play in the Erie community (search Facebook for the hashtag #UEisME). Local author and blogger CJ Zahner wrote a series of impassioned and popular blog posts about the struggle. Local teacher Jonathan Burdick, who runs the history project Rust and Dirt, wrote a feature for the Erie Reader placing the strike in context of the history of labor struggles in Erie over the past century.“Making a National Issue of This Strike”
The strike — the largest in U.S. manufacturing in over three years — quickly made national and international headlines. CNN, the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press all covered the strike in its first days.
Longtime UE ally Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) lent his support to Locals 506 and 618 early. Sander wrote a letter to Wabtec’s CEO the week before Wabtec took over the plant, urging the company to maintain the existing terms and conditions that UE members had fought for over eight decades. He praised Erie UE members for standing up to corporate greed in his CNN Town Hall meeting the night before the strike. As journalist John Nichols reported in The Nation, “Bernie Sanders is Making a National Issue of This Strike.”
When Sanders launched his presidential campaign on March 2, he invited Slawson to address the launch rally in Brooklyn. Sanders’ support for the UE strikers “has given our fight national attention,” Slawson said. “The Senator has embraced our community and our local. You are our brother, Senator Sanders, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.” (Watch video of Slawson's speech here)
When Slawson announced that “today 1700 families are standing on a picket line in freezing cold temperatures in Erie, Pennsylvania saying ‘we’re had enough!’” the large, boisterous crowd began chanting “Strike! Strike! Strike!”
Describing Wabtec’s demand for two-tier wages, Slawson told the crowd how generations of UE members had struggled and sacrificed to make GE Transportation jobs into good jobs. “We’re not going to throw that away for our children and the generations of the future just so a greedy corporation and its shareholders can take more.”
Slawson also spoke about how UE is proud to stand up against forced overtime, to defend union members’ freedom to spend time outside of work with their families and contributing to their community. He declared, “40 hours is enough for the employer to control your lives!”
“We are fighting for every worker’s right to family-sustaining wages, good pay, decent benefits and solid work protections for all,” Slawson concluded. “It’s time for men and women to make a stand, and with the help of our community, politicians like Bernie Sanders, and the great people here today, we are making that stand! We will bring unions back to America, we will bring justice back to America, we will make the American workers proud again!”Support from Paris to Pittsburgh #Solidarity4UE photo sent by Zenroren, which represents 1.5 million Japanese workers. For more solidarity photos, search the hashtag #Solidarity4UE on Facebook and Twitter
UE members in Erie also received international support. Unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers in Canada, Great Britain, Italy, France, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey — all countries in which Wabtec has operations — wrote letters to Wabtec’s CEO before the strike expressing solidarity with UE, as did the global union federation IndustriALL, which represents 50 million manufacturing workers around the world.
On March 6, UE locals from across the country, and unions and working people from around the world, joined an international #Solidarity4UE day of action on social media.
Also on March 6, UE Local 610, which represents Wabtec workers at the company’s Pittsburgh-area plants in Wilmerding and Greensburg, hosted a solidarity rally at corporate headquarters in Wilmerding. A busload of Local 506 and 618 members from Erie joined members of Locals 610 and 667, other Pittsburgh-area unions, and community supporters to demand that Wabtec withdraw its demands for concessions and bargain with Locals 506 and 618.
“This is all about corporate greed,” UE General President Peter Knowlton told the rally. “This is about a company trying to get concessions from a local it has not been able to get concessions from for 20 years. We’re not gonna start now just because their name is GE-Wabtec instead of GE.”
Local 610 Assistant Chief Steward Jeff Kohler called the rally an “energetic and beautiful moment. I was definitely proud to be a UE member.”
Late that night, Locals 506 and 618 reached 90-day interim agreement with the company to end the strike, with no two-tier wages, no forced overtime and no use of temporary workers.The Future of American Manufacturing
Following the settlement of the strike, Moshe Zvi Marvit and Andrew Stettner, fellows at The Century Foundation, published an op-ed about the strike in the New York Times titled "Is There a Future for Good Manufacturing Jobs in the U.S.?” They concluded that
Without strong unions and the decent wages they fight for, factories will not be able to find the millions of skilled workers they need to maintain the momentum of the American manufacturing resurgence.
Marvit and Stettner warn that Wabtec’s demands for concessions will hurt not only Erie workers, but the American economy more broadly. “By proposing to lower future workers’ pay, companies like Wabtec may halt a broader manufacturing resurgence,” they wrote. In contrast to Wabtec’s short-sighted pursuit of low wages, “[t]he unions are offering Wabtec and the rest of manufacturing a different and more promising path: Rebuild the wage premium in manufacturing as a way to retain and attract the next generation of skilled manufacturing workers.”
The Erie locomotive plant is exactly the kind of high-value-added, high-wage manufacturing facility that Marvit and Stettner hail as the future of American manufacturing. GE Transportation consistently earned profits of over 16 percent for the last five years, driven by the skilled work done by UE members in Erie. The members of Locals 506 and 618 are fighting not just for their own community, but for every community that depends on manufacturing jobs.The Struggle Continues
Locals 506 and 618 are still negotiating with Wabtec for a new contract, but the company continues to insist on new starting rates as low as $17 per hour, use of temporary workers, and other concessions. The interim agreement expires on June 3.
Local 610’s contract with Wabtec expired on May 1 and, facing a united membership who had authorized a strike, the company settled a contract that includes no concessions and significant improvements.
UE members in Erie, with the support they received from their community and across the country and the world, remain ready to stand up against corporate greed. “You can feel that there's a new movement happening” in the country, Local 618 Business Agent Janet Gray told the UE Eastern Region council meeting in April.
Many UE staff assisted with the preparation and conduct of the strike: International Representatives Mark Meinster and Karen Hardin and Field Organizers Abbie Curtis, John Ocampo, Lyndsey O'Day, George Waksmunski and Ben Wilson all assisted on the ground in Erie. Communications Director Jonathan Kissam helped with the press and messaging, and Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson arranged much of the international solidarity. International Representative John Thompson, UE General President Peter Knowlton, and UE Director of Organization Gene Elk assisted with both negotiations and the strike.
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UE leaders have been taking UE’s message that the Green New Deal must include action for good, union jobs to Green New Deal meetings. On May 4, UE General President Peter Knowlton spoke at a town hall meeting in Philadelphia organized by the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led movement to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process (learn more about the Sunrise Movement at sunrisemovement.org).
We have examples in our history of creating massive numbers of union jobs to address societal challenges, Knowlton said, citing the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s and the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) of the 1970s. He spoke about his own experience as energy educator in Minneapolis, employed by CETA in the late 70s to weatherize residential homes and apartment buildings.
“CETA provided some of the first building trades apprenticeship opportunities for large numbers of women and people of color,” Knowlton said. “Union jobs that paid union wages and benefits and which meant guarantees, stability, and peace of mind because you know you are no longer an at-will employee and … you have rights.”
Underlining the importance of including workers in the Green New Deal, he warned that “if we don’t make a jobs campaign and guarantees of income and benefits for affected workers the cornerstone of our movement, we are making a mistake that could cost us our lives.”
In Erie, PA Local 506 Vice President/Recording Secretary Tom Bobrowicz was a featured speaker at a May 6 town hall meeting on “The Road to the Green New Deal.” Bobrowicz spoke about how a Green New Deal could benefit workers, like UE members at Wabtec. The Erie event was put together by the PA Poor People’s Campaign, Keystone Progress, Sunrise Movement, Erie County Young Democrats and Erie County United.Tom Bobrowicz, second from the right, with other participants in the Erie town hall meeting