Just as delegates to the IAM Convention in 1976 approved the Program for Progress that saw the union through more than three decades, delegates at the 37th Grand Lodge Convention ensured the IAM has a sound financial base to carry the union into the future with the resources necessary to take on corporations and hostile governments.
A university professor described the IAM at Boeing as “the wrong union to mess with” in the New York Times and an aerospace industry analyst called the IAM “one of the last unions with any power in this country.” The action delegates took will ensure the IAM will be described in such terms for years to come.
Delegates lined up at the microphones to express their strong feelings on both sides of the issue, but all expressed their commitment as trade unionists. IAM President Tom Buffenbarger gave an impassioned address on the responsibility all members have to keep the union strong for the next generation. “My father was at the 1976 Convention, and I know the fathers of many of you in this room were there, too,” declared Buffenbarger. “I want to see a great union for our children and grandchildren – that’s what we’re here to do today.”
The approved proposal takes into account the needs expressed by delegates and lodges to keep the current method of calculating the Grand Lodge per capita tax largely intact. To keep the IAM financially strong, delegates approved a one-time increase of $4.00 in the 2009 Grand Lodge per capita tax. Coupled with the normal weighted average estimated increase of 3.02 percent, or 78 cents, the total increase for 2009 is $4.78, or the equivalent of just 2.76 cents per hour.
There will be a normal increase of an estimated 80 cents in 2010. In 2011 there will be a one-time increase of $2.00 in the per capita base rate and then annual increases will be pegged to the Consumer Price Index.
Local Lodges will have the ability to set their own dues rates and collection methods based on their own needs. Also, provisions remain for the International President to grant special dispensations in certain circumstances.
“It doesn’t matter what position you took, your character and strength were outstanding,” said Buffenbarger. “We are one union of one mind with a common cause of taking care of the brothers and sisters throughout the union.”
Gerald W. McEntee, the International President of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of City, State and Municipal Workers (AFSCME), received a sustained ovation from convention delegates in Orlando when he announced a $100,000 donation to an IAM strike assistance fund to help 27,000 IAM members on strike at Boeing.
“I want you to know that AFSCME stands in solidarity with all of you and with the 27,000 aerospace workers in your struggle with Boeing,” said McEntee, who noted the long and productive partnership between the IAM and AFSCME.
“We stand with you. We stand beside you. And let me tell you something, we always put our money where our mouth is. So I have with me to give to your President, a check for $100,000 to help you on your strike at Boeing.”
McEntee also addressed labor’s role in the upcoming elections and the importance of electing labor-friendly representatives. “We have the best grassroots mechanism that the American Labor Movement has ever seen,” declared McEntee. “And let me tell you this, we are going to be the biggest, baddest and boldest supporters of the Obama-Biden ticket.”
The initial results of a multi-million dollar study by the University of Pennsylvania to investigate links between long-term chemical exposure in the workplace and a rare form of brain cancer are set to be released to employees who took part in the study.
The study examined conditions at Pratt & Whitney facilities in Cheshire, East Hartford and Middletown, Connecticut, where at least 36 workers since the 1960’s have died from an aggressive form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma multiforme. Families of the victims demanded the study and say there have been at least 87 cases of the rare disease.
Results of the first phase of the cancer study will be released to IAM members and their families at 3 pm on September 18, 2008, at the Middletown Cafeteria and East Hartford Hanger. A public meeting will take place the same day at 8 pm at the Hartford Marriot Rocky Hill Hotel, 100 Capitol Boulevard, Rocky Hill, CT.
The blatant abuse of human rights in China has been the topic of numerous reports. But it wasn’t until Salt Lake Tribune reporter Loretta Tofani spent a year living in China visiting 25 factories that a journalist was truly able to report on the horrific abuses of Chinese workers.
Tofani was presented with the George J. Kourpias Award for Labor Journalism at the IAM convention in Orlando for her series of articles titled American Imports, Chinese Deaths. Tofani’s series took an in-depth look at the horrific working conditions in Chinese factories where workers routinely lose their health or lives while making products for export to North America.
Tofani talked to the delegates about her series of articles and the human rights abuses she observed during her time in China. “Inside China’s factories I saw the jobs that Americans used to have – making clothes, making shoes, making furniture, jewelry and toys,” said Tofani. “They made their products in the conditions of the early 20th Century, without the expensive health protections and engineering controls that were mandated in the U.S. by the 1971 OSHA law.”
Exposure to huge quantities of carcinogens such as lead and nickel, as well as working with severely outdated equipment, are having devastating impacts on Chinese workers.
“They are dying of fatal occupational diseases – leukemia, silicosis and renal failure – all while making our products,” said Tofani. “They also routinely lose fingers or arms while making American furniture, appliances, car parts and other metal goods.”
In 2005, 200 million of China’s 700 million workers were routinely exposed to toxic chemicals and life-threatening diseases in factories. She called the occupational disease law passed in 2002 largely cosmetic. “It has not been enforced because China is much more interested in attracting foreign investment and in improving the country’s prosperity,” said Tofani.
“The entire labor movement is in your debt for providing proof that free trade is not always a win-win for everyone, but often just a fig leaf for abuse, greed and the worst kind of exploitation,” said IAM President Tom Buffenbarger. “It is a valuable public service that journalists like Loretta perform – giving us a clear look at the true cost of low prices.”
Seventy members of Local 2507 in Princeton, KY, are on strike after voting to reject a so-called last and final offer from Special Metals Inc. “Forced overtime and rising health care costs forced our members to say ‘No Deal,’” said District 154 DBR Benny Adair. “It’s a strong group, they will have a strong strike.”
“Instead of building trust, new management didn’t live up to their word and have hurt the labor-management relationship,” said Local 2507 President Bill Johnson.
“Community support is overwhelming, the union members have in the past supported the Community, now the tide has turned and the union is being supported by the surrounding Communities,” said Johnson. Local 2507 is well represented with the local Government. The Sheriff, County Court Clerk and a City Councilman are IAM Members.
“The IAM negotiates strong contracts, and that’s what Local 2507 members want,” said Southern Territory GVP Bob Martinez. “They only want what’s fair, and as Fighting Machinists, they’ll do what it takes to get a good contract.”