This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2017 IAM Journal.
The Machinists Union takes pride in the often-recited slogan, “An IAM member may retire from their job, but they never retire from their union.” The people you are about to meet epitomize those words, and more.
San Leandro, CA Local 1584 retiree Andrea Gorman has seen, and experienced, a lot of “firsts” in her lifetime. Her father passed away when she was four, leaving her mother to raise Andrea and her seven siblings alone. After two years of financial struggles, the four youngest were sent to an orphanage and the older four to foster homes. Three years later, the family was reunited and made history by being the first children of a schoolteacher to receive Social Security survivor benefits. It had a profound impact on Gorman, which helped shape the adult she was to become.
“All my life I worked hard,” said Gorman. “I figured if you were going to get paid, you might as well work. I didn’t go for easy jobs; I went for better paying jobs. And I knew that meant union.”
Back east in the late 1960s, she worked at a muffler and tailpipe factory that had separate departments for men and women. When she learned the more physical men’s positions paid more, she put in a bid and became the only woman working in that section.
“I noticed that our stewards—all of them—were men,” said Gorman. “Well this one steward was not a good steward, and I knew I could do a better job. He laughed at me. Well, I ran against him and I won. I became the first woman steward in that plant.”
She followed that by becoming the plant’s first woman committeeman. The position title was then changed to committeeperson. When she moved to California, she became the first female production worker at that company.
A disability forced Gorman to retire from her job in 2001, but she has not slowed down one bit. In fact, she might even be more active now than ever before. Sixteen years after her official retirement, she remains a full dues-paying member of Local 1584 and is currently its secretary-treasurer. Gorman also holds the same position in the local’s retiree club.
“When I was told I could not work anymore, I got depressed,” said Gorman. “But when I started to be active, I found many things I could do and enjoy. I get up every day and I don’t care what day of the week it is, because I feel good.”
It’s community involvement that gives her the greatest satisfaction. Gorman is a Red Cross disaster assistance team first responder and a caseworker. It is strictly volunteer work, but she makes a huge difference in peoples’ lives when they need it most. Last year’s tragic Ghost Ship fire in Oakland proved to be an unexpected test for firefighters, victims, family members and Gorman herself.
“Three of us went there as first responders,” said Gorman. “We were first called out to give drinks and food to the firefighters because they burn up a lot of calories and need refreshments right away. As soon as we got there, I was told there were
going to be fatalities and asked if I was up to it. I said I would do what I need to do. You don’t really know how you’re going to feel emotionally. You’re there to help, so you don’t consider anything other than what the person you are there to help needs.”
The December 2016 fire, which is still under investigation, took the lives of 36 people. Most of the fatalities were between the ages of 21 to 35.
“I had seen fatalities before but not the numbers that came in, and also the age group,” said Gorman. “The fire department was trying so hard and it was tough seeing the frustration when they couldn’t do any more than they did. They were trying so hard. I’ve never seen a case like that.”
Following such a tragic event, being able to assist survivors and victims’ families as a volunteer helps Andrea Gorman give back.
“I look back now and see a lot that I’ve done, and know that being there has made a difference for a lot of people at a time that they needed me to be there,” said Gorman. “Just like when there were people there for me when I needed them. I hope they looked back and said ‘thank God I was there for her.’”
The Silver Foxes
Sixteen miles south of downtown Los Angeles is the Norwalk Arts and Sports Complex, the monthly meeting site for a group of retirees that defy age. The Silver Foxes retiree club has been around since 2001, and the long retired IAM members who run the group are quite a trio. President Randy Parker, Secretary-Treasurer John Saunders and Amador “Max” Chavez are all U.S. military veterans who spent their careers working in IAM shops in southern California.
“I retired from Peterbuilt trucks in 1989. I was mechanic and I also worked sales,” said Parker. “We started the Silver Foxes about 15 years ago with people from Local Lodge 1186, but then we were told we had to allow anyone over 55. So now we do.”
Parker, a World War II vet, has been the club’s president since it started. He says nobody else wants the job, so he keeps doing it. His good friend Saunders was also a mechanic at California Cartage Company near the L.A. Harbor. He’s a Korean War vet who retired in 1994.
“Two of the guys who started the club with us have passed away,” said Saunders. “But the wife of one of them is still active in our club. That keeps you young. My son says he doesn’t know how I do it. I go somewhere practically every night.”
Chavez is a transplant from southwest Colorado who came to California in the 1960s. His brother helped him get an IAM job at Proto Tools, where he started as a tool pusher and worked his way up to machine operator. When he retired in 1999, he moved to Apple Valley.
“People ask me, ‘What’s a cowboy from Colorado doing in the California high desert,’” said Chavez. “The reason I left Los Angeles is that I didn’t want to be in the traffic all the time. Too much traffic, and the homes are all so close together. We love it up there. I have two acres and I have some chickens.”
Chavez, who worked his way up as a union representative, retired as an IAM District 94 business manager. He has remained active and is currently assigned as the Southern California coordinator for IAM retiree clubs. He still drives to the greater Los Angeles area several times a month to assist at various club meetings.
“From Apple Valley to here is 105 miles,” says Chavez. “I’m also on the board of directors for Guide Dogs of America. We have board of directors meetings four times a year in Sylmar. So I drive there too, and that’s about 120 miles from my house.”
The goal of getting away from L.A. traffic may not have been too successful, but he loves staying involved. The Silver Foxes’ meetings are social events, but they keep issues of value to the members on the agenda as well.
“We do fundraising for Guide Dogs and go to their open house,” said Parker. “Sometimes if the district lodge or our local needs us to help them out and show our support, when they have negotiations or something, the retirees are there to help do anything they want. We’ll be there.”
“A lot of what goes on in our meetings is political,” said Saunders. “We’ll try to get speakers on identity theft and such. We used to do a lot of trips but most people aren’t taking trips anymore.”
There was one important trip recently, however. The club took part in a California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA) sponsored trip to Bakersfield, CA to protest against the attacks on Medicare and Social Security at the offices of U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
“It was a rally formed by CARA, there was probably 400 to 450 people there,” said Saunders. “It was about 10 busloads that came from here, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento. They just brought buses in from everywhere. We met in a park and walked over to his offices.”
Grandma ‘The Flash’
“People ask me, ‘how did I get involved in the union?’ and I tell them, we need union activists out there because the union will stand up for you,” said IAM retiree and current El Monte, CA Local 311 President Fleeta Loflin. “The union was a blessing for me.
“Before I retired, I was an aerospace inspector. I inspected gearboxes for jet engines for the F-16, F-14, the stealth and the B-2. I inspected cargo wenches for the C-17 and I inspected rescue hoists for military and commercial helicopters.”
Loflin retired eight years ago, but remained an active officer in the union because she wanted to show her membership how much she appreciated what it had done for her throughout her 35 years on the job. She also wanted to show the women in her lodge what could be done.
“I’m healthy and I was just going to stay involved in it to let people know that women can do these things too, not only men,” said Loflin. “I am the first female president my local lodge has ever had. When they elected me, the lodge was 115 years old and they never had a female president, and they never had a black president.”
Loflin has always been vocal about what’s going on around her. In the early 1990s, she was noticed by her local leadership and was asked to run for chief steward of her shop of roughly 200 members. With no previous leadership experience, she consulted her good friend and coworker Ron Griswald, and her late husband Robert, who both promised support. She then asked for God’s guidance. She overwhelmingly won the election.
“When somebody does something wrong, I speak up,” said Loflin. “Even if they aren’t doing it wrong to me, if I see it and I know it’s wrong, I’ll tell you ‘Hey that’s wrong and you shouldn’t do that.’”
Helping others has continued well into retirement. In addition to her duties as the local’s president, she is active with her church and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
Darting across southern California like “The Flash,” she hates the thought of retired people becoming sedentary, and freely calls on them to get up off the couch. Her younger sister and her granddaughter Karen know the drill.
“I say Karen, how long did your mommy tell you I’m going to live?” said Loflin. “She says, ‘Until you’re 104.’ I say OK! When you retire and you just sit down and do nothing, you’re wasting your life away. When you see people who need your help, help them.”