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Eastern Region Meeting Demonstrates UE’s Ability to Adapt and Embrace Change

24 October, 2018

UE’s Eastern Region held its fall council meeting on Saturday, October 27, with Eastern Region President Donna Morgan welcoming guests from the Northeast Region who were there to observe and discuss a proposal to restructure UE’s regions. Northeast Region President Elizabeth Jesdale briefly addressed the council meeting, emphasizing the importance of face-to-face relationships between UE members to build trust and relationships, especially during the hard times that the union is currently facing. “It's all of us together and our unity and our solidarity that will get us through this.” The Eastern Region’s officers, and members of the regional executive board, will also travel to the Northeast Region’s council meeting in November.

The council meeting opened with a report on the June and August General Executive Board meetings by Eastern Region at-large GEB member Jim Borowski, Local 106, and a report on a recent delegation to attend Unifor’s Canadian Council meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia, by Bud Decker, Local 329 and also an at-large GEB member. Decker spoke approvingly of Unifor’s militancy, describing how workers at a salt mine in Goderich, Ontario had removed scabs from their plant and won their strike with the assistance of the national union, and then reclaimed a boat used by the scabs, renaming it the “S.S. Jerry Dias” after Unifor’s national president, who assisted with ending the strike. “They are us,” said Decker. “We would do something like that.”

Morgan added that she was impressed with, and appreciated, the way Unifor accommodated people with disabilities, such as having chairs available for people who were waiting in line to speak at the microphones. “We have a lot to learn in many areas from Unifor,” she told the delegates.

UE Director of Organization Gene Elk told the council meeting that UE has always adapted and embraced change. He opened his remarks by reminding delegates about how UE was virtually destroyed in the 1940s and 50s by corporations and the right-wing, with the shameful assistance of some in the labor movement. “Sisters and brothers, I raise this because UE has seen much bleaker times, and we have always figured out through difficult discussions how to survive and thrive. The point of our work is to do what UE has always done, to adapt and to continue to serve as a beacon for democratic trade unionism.”

He emphasized the importance of UE’s relationship with Unifor in supporting UE’s organizing program, and detailed the organizing successes of the past year.

The council discussed and adopted a statement of Anti-Harassment Principles, Responsibilities and Procedures which was adopted by the General Executive Board in August. During the discussion Ricky Steele, Local 506, shared his experience working with Local 506’s Unity Council, emphasizing that union leaders have a responsibility to step up in cases of member-to-member harassment, even if it risks offending some people. The statement will also be discussed by the Western and Northeast Regions at their meetings over the next two weeks, after which there will be fuller coverage of the document on ueunion.org and in the next UE NEWS.

UE Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker gave a presentation and led a discussion on the union’s regional restructuring proposal, emphasizing that the national officers and General Executive Board want to make sure there is as full as possible discussion of the proposal throughout the union.

Shop reports offered evidence of all the ways that UE locals carry out aggressive struggle in the workplace. Delegates Nancy Seubert, Local 121, Bud Decker, Local 329 and Steve Adkins, Local 684 reported on recently completed contract negotiations, and delegates Thomas Conners, Local 106 and Karen Rizzo, Local 613 told delegates they were starting or preparing for negotiations.

Wesley Henshaw, Local 123, Antwon Gibson, Local 610, Doug “Cool Breeze” Crawley, Local 683, and Charles Davis, Local 777 reported on grievances in their shops, and their locals’ efforts to make reluctant managements follow their contracts. Henshaw reported on the successful rally his local held in July. He urged new delegates to reach out to other locals for help, and reminded everyone that “the people have the power” when they come together in the shop. Crawley told delegates being targeted by a manager, and his determination to stand up. “I demand my respect because I give everybody respect,” he said. “You're not going to talk to me like I'm a child.”

Jeff Van Meter, Local 766, Jack Boyle, Local 155, and Nancy Seubert, Local 121 all spoke about their efforts to foster new leadership in their shops and locals.

Local 506 Chief Plant Steward Leo Grzegorzewski shared that 383 people on the recall list have been recalled to work recently. He also reported that Local 506’s membership has re-elected the same board since 2015, realizing that the board “do[es] a good job because they're well informed and they're involved.” He emphasized the importance of keeping both leaders and members involved and educated in order to keep the union strong.

Local 506 Vice President and Legislative Action Chair Tom Bobrowicz told delegates that Local 506 had endorsed three politicians in this election: Tom Wolf for re-election as governor, Bob Casey for re-election as U.S. Senator, and Ron DiNicola for U.S. Congress. He reported that DiNicola attended Local 506’s October membership meeting and was “very warmly welcomed.” The local held a rally to support Wolf and other candidates in August. Local 506 is also actively informing their membership about issues including single-payer healthcare and proposals to make Pennsylvania “right to work.”

Local 506 executive board member Matt McCracken gave a report about the Local 506 Sports Committee, which organizes sports events to raise money for various charitable causes. The Sports Committee, he said, enhances the local’s visibility and prestige in the local community and provides opportunities for new leaders to get involved.

Local 506 President Scott Slawson gave an update on the merger of GE Transportation with Wabtec. “They couldn't kill us, so they decided to sell us,” he said, noting that GE was so eager to get rid of UE that they were willing to sell off their most profitable division. Local 618 Business Agent Janet Gray also reported on her local's preparations for negotiating with Wabtec.

Local 170 President Jamie Beaton and Vice-President Leslie Riddle reported on Local 170's recently held convention. They also told delegates that the state had recently been refusing them access to state workplaces, but after intervention from UE General Counsel Irene Thomas, they had just received word the previous week that they would once again be allowed to talk to workers in the workplace.

The Local 150 report was shared among all five delegates. Incoming Vice President Sekia Royall reported on the local’s recent convention, Bonita Johnson described their political action efforts for the upcoming election. Incoming Recording Secretary Aubrey Lauersdorf talked about recent organizing that is building the union at the University of North Carolina and also expanding to North Carolina State and North Carolina Central University. DHHS Division Chair Darrion Smith described how the Department of Health and Human Services has changed the way they deal with grievances in response to Local 150's success in winning so many. Outgoing President Nathanette Mayo reported on the local's legislative action week in May, successes in organizing municipal workers, and Local 150's response to Hurricane Florence.

Delegates also discussed making modifications to the region’s scholarship fund and filled out surveys about subregional trainings.

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