Posted August 15, 2022
The 38th Constitutional Convention of the United Auto Workers (UAW), held July 25-28, 2022 in Detroit, saw the most organized opposition to the rule of the Administration Caucus (AC) since the days of the New Directions caucus thirty years ago. It was also the first convention since the two most recent UAW presidents — Gary Jones and Dennis Williams — were convicted of embezzling union funds. Just a couple of days before the convention they were released from prison and will serve the rest of their sentences from home.
Corruption Hangs Over Convention
A total of twelve union officials have been charged with and subsequently pled guilty to stealing from the union or taking bribes from a corporation. A total of $1.5 million has been traced to union dues, with another $3.5 million from training centers that are partially financed by union dues.
Last year the UAW leadership team, the International Executive Board (IEB), signed a consent agreement with the federal government, agreeing to a six-year federal oversight. Neil M. Barofsky, the appointed federal monitor, is to continue investigations of corruption and to work with the union to build transparency. One element of the agreement was to initiate a membership-wide referendum on the procedure for electing top UAW officials. The IEB had been elected by the delegates to a Constitutional Convention. Reform caucuses over the last fifty years saw this as a method through which the AC could perpetuate its rule. The resulting referendum discarded that method in favor of elections based on the principle of one member, one vote. Nominations to the IEB were held during the convention. The election will take place in November.
The federal monitor issued his third report just before the convention. He labeled the IEB culture “toxic.” At least until March 2022, the IEB and its lawyers were hiding information about recent corruption cases. Pointing out that the new UAW’s legal counsel seems to be committed to transparency, the monitor promised further updates. Currently he and his team are working on nineteen open investigations.
Delegates elected on the Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD) slate represented no more than 8-10 percent of the 900 delegates, yet they were able to have a big impact. For UAWD delegates the two most critical issues were to begin strike pay from day one, rather than day eight, and to write into the UAW Constitution a prohibition against bargaining contracts with tiers. While on the convention floor, UAWD delegates kept in touch with each other over WhatsApp. This tool helped them bring resolutions or amendments onto the floor and explain their motivation to other delegates.
On the convention floor and in their daily newsletter, UAWD pointed out that at least three UAW locals struck last year but did not receive strike pay, because they were out less than a week. Five locals had longer strikes but only received a fraction of their lost wages. They noted that the 2021 Teamsters convention had voted to calculate strike pay from day one. With delegates like Nolan Tabb from John Deere and Jessie Kelly, a skilled moldmaker from GM, talking about how they struck their plants for more than a week without strike pay backing them up from day one, the motion easily passed.
Later, Yasin Madia, a delegate who had been out on a three-month strike against CNH Industries, made a motion to increase the weekly strike wage from the $400 to $500. (Just weeks before the convention the IEB had raised strike pay from $275 to $400. Raising the pay to $400 had been a UAWD goal, but the IEB beat them to the punch.) When the raise to $500 was proposed, UAWD delegates enthusiastically supported the motion. It passed 416 yes to 231 no. That evening the press quoted President Ray Curry as saying that this showed delegates were prepared to use the strike weapon, if necessary, to get a good contract.
On its last day the convention stalled out, when one AC candidate for trustee received 63 nominating speeches, rather than the two allowed. This seems to have been a tactic to run down the clock, as some delegates had to catch departing flights. An AC delegate made a motion to reconsider the additional boost in strike pay, arguing that, had that the higher amount been in effect during the GM strike, it would have cost the UAW an addition $29 million. The AC delegates didn’t care that the money would have gone to striking UAW workers and their families. It is amazingly brazen that the AC caucus would be willing to oppose the increase in strike pay after voting to increase IEB salaries, but that was the decision their caucus took. The motion to return strike pay to $400 carried: 434 yes; 163 no.
This year the delegates’ packet contained a booklet of resolutions passed by locals and an omnibus resolution that the Resolutions Committee had put together and that could not be amended, only voted up or down. Amendments to the Constitution were also in the packet, rather than being handed out just before the amendment was to be voted on, as in the past. Having the amendments early was a step forward. But the amendment against two-tiers, submitted by a couple of dozen locals, was missing. When questioned, the Resolutions Committee claimed that amendment was appropriate for next year’s Bargaining Convention. But the amendment was clearly written to add language to an already existing Constitutional provision. Bill Parker, a delegate from Local 1700, motivated discussing the amendment, even if it was missing from the booklet. The tier system, he and other delegates stated, was hated by the membership, as it pitted workers against each other in negotiations. They wanted tiers removed as a bargaining issue.
The AC caucus opposed the amendment on the grounds that it “tied the hands” of the bargaining committee. After discussion, the amendment was defeated. UAWD delegates had been pretty certain they would not win the vote, but they prioritized the discussion in preparation for the 2023 contracts.
The convention also considered the federal monitor’s two options for how to vote in the IEB elections: a runoff election if no candidate wins the majority, or instant-runoff voting. In instant-runoff or ranked-choice voting, voters rank their choices, and their second and subsequent choices are used to determine the winner, without another election. UAWD delegates supported instant-runoff voting as an efficient and economical method, particularly important because a runoff would delay installing a new leadership until March 2023, the same year as contract bargaining for the Big Three. Even though a runoff would cost at least a million dollars, the AC opposed ranked-choice voting. Labelling it as too complicated, they won the vote.
Other issues the UAWD delegates prioritized included:
- Making the Strike Fund sustainable by ending the practice of transferring all interest earned on the fund of approximately $850 million to the General Fund.
- Developing a program to meet the challenge of the climate crisis by new organizing and fighting for a shorter workweek.
- Supporting the right of retirees, who make up 58 percent of the UAW membership, to run for the IEB. This was a direct challenge to UAW President Ray Curry’s decision to bar retirees from running. (Retirees currently have the right to vote but not to run.)
- Lowering the threshold for the number of delegates necessary to bring resolutions to the floor (currently 15 percent of the delegates).
None of these passed, but UAWD delegates knew that everything would be an uphill battle in a convention where most delegates were either pledged to the AC or intimidated by their control over the union. What happened at the convention was that a number of political issues were raised, and delegates began to speak up. This democratic opening closed on the last day of the convention, when AC representatives instructed delegations not to put resolutions on the floor or support those who did. Servicing representatives patrolled the convention floor to enforce the instruction.
Two trustees were elected at the convention. The UAWD nominated longtime activist Scott Houldieson and supported Roberta Gainer’s run. Although neither were elected, it was the first time delegates could recall contested elections for that spot.
Because of the corruption and the agreement between the IEB and the federal government, last year a Membership Advisory Committee on Ethics had been set up within each region of the union. Members were asked to submit names, and the committee was chosen by lottery. At the convention, however, the AC insisted that the committee be appointed by regional directors.
UAWD nominated three candidates for the IEB: Shawn Fain for president, Margaret Mock for Secretary-Treasurer, and LaShawn English for director of Region 1. The election will occur this fall. (UAWD will be considering candidates for additional regions at a UAWD membership meeting.)
As a UAWD member whose main task was leafleting convention delegates every morning with the UAWD newsletter, I also sat in on the daily UAWD caucus meetings. It was inspiring to see the delegates working together, particularly bridging the worlds of higher education and the auto industry. The AC also had their caucus meetings, but they didn’t pass out a daily bulletin as they’ve done in the past. The convention debates took up so much time that President Curry rescheduled his customary presidential state-of-the-union address three times. In the end, the convention adjourned without hearing it.