Call it on-the-job training: for fully one-third of the UE General Executive Board, including the national union’s financial officer, the meeting here Jan. 17-19 was their first. Not that any of the new board members were unfamiliar with the issues facing the union. Each brought years of UE membership and experience to the table.
In this expanded, three-day meeting, UE leaders discussed the union’s organizing program and finances, considered reports from a subcommittee that looked at a change to a biennial convention and a task force that recommended an hourly based system of paying per capita, and adopted a statement on current national and international crises, among other work.
The General Executive Board consists of the three national officers, and district presidents and other district officers. New are Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bruce Klipple, District One Rec. Sec. Barbara Prear, District Two Pres. Peter Knowlton, District Two Sec.-Treas. Jonathan Kissam, District Seven Treas. LuAnn Robbins and District 10 Sec.-Treas. Judy Hice. (Hice was unable to attend the January meeting.)
NO CONVENTION IN 2004?
After a lengthy debate, the GEB voted to recommend that there not be a UE national convention in 2004 on a "one-time, trial basis" and instead focus resources on activities to build the union. The recommendation goes to the UE Convention this September.
A GEB subcommittee which met Jan. 17 reported that a number of technical adaptations required by a change from an annual to a biennial convention could be accomplished without a detrimental effect on the union’s operation. The subcommittee acknowledged benefits derived from holding annual conventions, and recommended waiving a convention on a trial basis, without amendment of the UE Constitution. (The Constitution requires an annual convention.)
The GEB also heard a report from a task force charged with investigating, evaluating, developing and recommending a new per capita system based on ability to pay, that meets the revenue goals projected by the GEB and Convention, and incorporates a mechanism for automatic per capita increases.
The GEB spent several hours discussing the recommendations and its ramifications before deciding to postpone further consideration until the May meeting. Board members generally supported the recommendations, based on an hourly system, but expressed concern about their implementation. The UE leaders agreed to undertake a year-long educational campaign, beginning with district council meetings this June. Final action would be deferred to the 2003 convention.
An increase in organizing possibilities is coinciding with important advances in involving the UE membership in organizing, reported Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley. UE organizers are finding new leads almost daily and UE is developing broad new campaigns around the union.
Just that morning, Kingsley said, workers at a nursing home expressed interest in organizing with UE via the Internet. And he offered a written report from a rank-and-filer as an example of the stepped-up membership participation in organizing.
A key development in recent months, Kingsley said, was the inaugural meetings of Regional Organizing Councils (ROCs) in Burlington, Vt., Erie, Pa., Milwaukee, Wis., and Yellow Springs, Ohio. A Philadelphia area meeting is "in the works." The ROCs consist of members who draw up local organizing plans, survey their co-workers, and leaflets and visit unorganized workers.
The Erie ROC "is rooted in experience, and its work is beyond expectation," enthused District Six Pres. John Lambiase. In Milwaukee, Local 1111 is contributing to the effort by following up leads generated by a survey of laid-off members, said District 11 Rec. Sec. Bob Rudek. The Ohio ROC demonstrated strong interest, reported District Pres. Seven Pres. Joyce Clayborne. "I was encouraged by them."
Kingsley and GEB members surveyed current campaigns underway, from California to New Hampshire.
In the Burlington area, noted District Two Sec.-Treas. Jonathan Kissam, Local 221 has initiated a campaign among employees of social service agencies. Respect, not wages, is a top issue in the non-profit sector, where much of the funding comes from the state, he said. UE locals in so-called "right-to-work" states are engaged in internal organizing, gaining strength by signing up new members in already organized workplaces.
UE continues to devote resources to tough first-contract struggles, Kingsley said. The biggest organizational effort at present, he pointed out, is the defense of Local 791 (Ohio Turnpike workers) from a raid.
The union’s international work is expanding beyond Mexico and the UE alliance with the Authentic Labor Front (FAT) to assist more with organizing efforts, particularly in cooperation with European unions and Zenroren, the Japanese labor federation, reported Robin Alexander, the union’s international labor affairs director. UE has developed an international data base that is increasing giving the union the tools to track the operations of employers abroad, she said.
UE will be participating in the labor-endorsed World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where some 50,000 delegates from around the globe will discuss alternatives to corporate-driven globalization, Alexander said. The UE delegates – District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen, Jonathan Kissam and herself – hope to meet with Brazilian unions dealing with employers of UE members and other sister unions, she said. (They are making this trip with funds raised for this purpose.)
Taking stock of the crises bedeviling the United States and its working people – especially a recession worsened by the effects of the September 11 terror attacks – the GEB adopted a statement that called for genuine solutions from Washington instead of a further shift of wealth and power to the corporate elite. Job-killing trade deals, a massive military buildup and curtailment of civil liberties do not represent appropriate responses to these crises, the UE leaders declared.
The job-killing "fast track" bill, adopted approved by the House 215-214, might still be stopped in the Senate, suggested Chris Townsend, political action director. The outrageous deal-making that accompanied the vote, which saw 21 Democrats side with the Republican majority, could prove to be a sticking point, he said. UE members generated phone calls, e-mails and letters in the unsuccessful effort to derail the bill.
A highpoint of UE political action in recent months was the work of locals in Iowa to defend public-sector members faced with layoffs due to the state’s budgetary crisis. That work is ongoing, Townsend said.
The GEB discussed the difficulties besetting the Labor Party, and UE’s responsibility for moving the party to a new phase.