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GM plant offer sets off union power struggle

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A tentative sales agreement between General Motors Co. and JD Norman Industries Inc. for the Indianapolis stamping plant where more than 600 people work has touched off a power struggle within the auto workers union.

The United Auto Workers in Detroit confirmed Thursday morning that UAW Local 23 will vote Monday on Illinois-based JD Norman's proposal to buy the plant.

"There is a tentative agreement," UAW spokeswoman Michelle Martin said via e-mail. "There will be an informational meeting on Sunday and a vote on Monday."

However, local bargaining committee chairman Greg Clark said an overwhelming majority of the 631 represented workers at the plant voted on May 26 not to negotiate with JD Norman. The majority still do not want to consider the latest proposal or vote on it, he said.

Clark said he believes UAW's regional and international representatives don't have the right, under the UAW's constitution, to override that stance.

Higher-level union reps didn't communicate with him about the meeting, he said, and he took down posters at the plant advertising it.

"This is a law," Clark said. "The constitution is the supreme law of the UAW."

Clark added that he's not sure about his next step.

UAW Region 3 Director Mo Davison said Thursday morning in a prepared statement: "The International Union has in the past and will in the future, call meetings when we have vital information to share with our membership.  Our members' livelihood is hanging in the balance and they deserve to hear the facts so they can make an informed decision."

GM plans to close the massive sheet metal-stamping plant just west of downtown by Sept. 14, 2011, if it isn't sold first. To outsiders, JD Norman would appear to be a potential savior of jobs and tax revenue for the city, but many who work there don't see it that way. Like Clark, they've transferred to Indianapolis from other GM plants in hopes of staying with the company long enough to collect retirement benefits.

Clark said previously that he thinks GM will find work for him and other employees at other plants, but that's not an option if the local facility stays open, and if the union starts working for JD Norman.

There is a camp within Local 23, led by President Ray Kennedy, that wants to stay. Kennedy could not be reached for comment this morning. Clark said he believes most people on Kennedy's side already qualify for GM's retirement, but want a chance to keep working, even if for lower wages, in Indianapolis.

Officials for JD Norman, based in Addison, Ill., did not return a phone call this morning. The privately held company describes itself as a diversified manufacturer of metal components and systems with operations in the United States and Mexico. It supplies companies in the aerospace, defense, appliance, automotive, building technologies, electrical, energy and medical industries.

The company has acquired seven stamping plants since 2005—the last one being HSM Industries in Mexico in November.

UAW Local 23's current four-year labor contract with GM, negotiated in 2007, contains a two-tiered system in which new employees earn about $15 an hour compared with the prevailing $29-an-hour wage for more experienced workers.

JD Norman doesn't have to assume GM's contract with the union, but because it would be taking over the same metal-stamping work, it has to recognize and bargain with the incumbent union, said Marquita Walker, assistant professor of labor studies at IUPUI.

As for the UAW's internal dispute, Walker said it's typical of struggles throughout organized labor, especially since the recession. Local chapters are pushing for democratic union governance, but they've gotten little traction.

"The power resides where the money is," she said. "The money is in the national and international. They collect the dues. They are able to hire really nifty attorneys that know labor laws inside and out. Until the rank-and-file are able to amass the funding... it's not going to happen."

UAW spokeswoman Martin said the union would not release details of the JD Norman proposal before the vote.

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  • yeah
    workers should just all shut up and quit being so "greedy" -- unlike the bosses.

    when the bosses have screwed everyone's wages down to zeros, some fools will still be talking about the "greedy" workers.

  • GM Jobs
    For all you union bashers looking for a $15.00 an hour job just hang on. The new 2nd tier at GM pays 15 bucks an hour. There are gonna be some jobs openings on the assembly line. After you are through with 10 years of back breaking labor get back with me about that 15 dollar an hour job and the UAW.
  • amma59
    Until you have been there, until you have worked under
  • Notsomuch
    If the GM workers take a pay cut, the majority of them would be homeless in no time at all. They have built homes and purchase items based on their current income. I doubt very seriously if your companies asked any of the critics to cut their pay in half, you wouldn't be able to feed your family, make car payments or mortgage, becuase it was all based on the higher income.
  • Poor Local Leadership
    "This is a law," Clark said. "The constitution is the supreme law of the UAW."

    Clark either is lying or misunderstands the UAW constitution. According Article 13 Section 9 of the UAW constitution, the international president or designee can call special meetings as long as the local elected officers are notified. Clark is the elected chairman but the chairman is not listed in the bylaw as one of the elected executive officers. The international/regional union was perfectly withing their rights to side step him.

    I am not really sure what Clark's agenda is as they are getting the transfer rights they wanted in the offer as an option. The only thing missing is the paragraph 96 transfers that say if the work moves to another GM plant a NEGOTIATED ammount of people will move with the work. But by giving them closed plant status that pretty much does the same thing.

    My bet is that if the local votes this down, GM will subsidizes the current contract through the end of the agreement (sept 2011) and then the local is on their own with no buy downs, buy outs or transfer rights.

    Good Luck!!
  • BS
    This is a load. Not for one minute should anyone believe that these workers are fighting for wages! They are fighting for health insurance. Give me a break "wages"
  • Butt Out
    If you don't personally know anyone working for this plant, then you are an outsider and of course you're going to look at it in the light of creating more jobs. Also, there are PLENTY of hard working people working for GM in Indy, so I'm not quite sure where you've gotten your statistics. They've even broken records this year on my husband's line but the cold hard facts are they're going to close the plant no matter what high expectations they meet, which leaves a completely life changing event for all of it's workers. I'll leave out everything I've learned today about this new proposal but I will say that because I am pregnant with our first child, he'll have to continue on working with JD to keep insurance and our now middle class lifestyle will soon be changing drastically and we'll probably be struggling just to get by, even with my $8/hour 44 hour/week job. Thanks for building us up, thanks for watching us fall. These people have worked hard for many years to maintain a GM employee status and working towards their retirement, DON'T bash them!
  • Thik before you speak
    What people don't realize is that the people who work at these plants have already given in last year when they filed bankruptcy. Also, if it wasn't was for the unions most of us wouldn't have the benefits that we have at our jobs today. And once they start cutting the wages and benefits of the union people it won't be long until non union wages and benefits are cut.
  • I'm not a judge
    I don't hold any party at fault! GM is looking out for GM (stockholders), JD Norman is looking out for JD and the workers are looking out for the workers. Unfortunately, I realized this is life (the american way) and its about survival of the fittest! Good luck to all of you! (I chose to be different, but it's cost me)
  • Leave Them Alone
    It is easy to critize when you are not involved. It sounds to me like these guys have been journeymen of the union sellouts, and they probably know that if they give in to the International Thugs that the pension that they have been promised and worked for all of these years will go up in smoke. If you are not involved, butt out. That includes me. I am out of here.
  • They are carzy
    The union would rather close the company rather than let it be sold to another company? It doesn't make any sense. Their greed is not to be believed. I know a lot of people who would love to have a job.
  • Are they crazy
    Most plants are closing, moving to Mexico or not hiring. You wont get a tranfer if this place closes. Unions are killing the US!!!! If you dont like it then get a new job.
  • Union BS
    These lazy union members would rather siphon the 90% of their wages that GM is paying than look at the long term for new workers and the city. I hope they vote no and then JD will hire normal hard working people and make this plant succesful. Lord know the unions are ruining our nations workforce with empty promises and lazy non-productive workers. Union thugs are the only beneficiaries of the unions.

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