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UE Local 123: 50 Years of Rank and File Democracy

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The September 1963 UE News reports, “Virginia Westinghouse plant Votes for UE, 326 – 191. The workers at the Westinghouse air conditioning plant threw out the company backed International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union. This was the first time workers were able to vote for their own union as opposed to the one the company assigned them. The workers had already endured a two year campaign, when the National Labor Relations Board changed the rules governing such elections and made them wait another year. It was a sickening blow but the workers did not give up.”

union-worker-headerThe Organizing Committee grew to 110 workers and visited every one of their nearly 600 fellow workers. The company and the IBEW fought to keep UE out. The Chamber of Commerce also got involved by attempting to bar UE access to any meeting halls. Retail merchants were urged to threaten a cutoff of credit if people voted for UE. Soon all six Valley newspapers were screaming “Reds” and suggesting that manufacturers would flee the Valley if UE won.

The company tried to credit themselves with giving these raises and the Union responded with the first documented edition of “The Bulldog.”

The headline read … “There ain’t no Santa Claus.”

“Management would have you believe it was playing Santa Claus by offering a 4 cent an hour across the board wage increase out of sheer love for the people. Nothing could be further from truth. Westinghouse never gives anything away – never has and never will. This and other increases were won the hard way- the only way working people win anything- by uniting in a strong Union- UE and being ready to fight for what’s due them if necessary”.

The first UE Local 123 negotiating committee consisted of Winfred Kendall President, Mervin Breeden, William D Weaver, Hoover A. Fridley and Douglas Kingsbury.

 

GERONIMO (The first UE Local 123 Battle Cry)

Since these early days the Union has endured many struggles with every employer from Westinghouse to Snyder General, to McQuay and now to Daikin. Over those years there were many walkouts and some strikes. The UE contract has gotten early activists like Doug Kingsbury, former members Jerry and Nathan Wimer, current members Boyd Moore, Paul Cline and others reinstated. More recently our Union has also won significant arbitrations related to shift differential and reman. compressor pay.

In early 2005, frustration filled the shop due to numerous arbitrations and an arrogant management with disdain for its employees. The Union developed a letter to corporate, and a second letter to Mr. Nyuk Choy HO, president/CEO OYL. The local wrote, printed, addressed, and stuffed each letter that was given to each member for signing. Workers came to the post office with their letters and were provided with stamps furnished by the UE Local 123. The union contacted all media outlets which covered the event. The human resource manager, Bill Weaver was soon replaced, and the arbitrations ceased.

In late 2005, the floor was enraged by local mismanagement. The union developed Waste, Abuse and Mismanagement (WAM) forms to document the WAM. Local management had no concern over the WAMS. Things changed however when more than 100 WAMs were sent to the president of OYL in Malaysia. Local management was never given a copy. Within a few weeks a visitors from the Malaysian headquarters arrived unannounced and questioned the surprised management team. WAM after WAM costing nearly a million dollars in lost profit was reported. Local management was re-moved and harmony was restored. Soon after, we negotiated our 2006 contract and won significant wage, benefit and language improvements.

In 2009 during negotiations, the company came to stop the union’s progress in its tracks. A mighty battle raged on the shop floor to hold onto what we had during a time of recession. In the end the union made little progress but a message was sent. We had rallies, ribbons, Red White and Blue days, etc. The message was, Don’t mess with UE 123 and think a price will not be paid.

In 2012, the company came to the bargaining table determined not to repeat 2009. In 2012, the union won wage increases of $2.27 per hour. The compounded wage increase over the current 4 year period will be $11,813. In the next 18 months all workers are guaranteed a wage increase of $1.13 an hour. Plant managers come and go. Some were helped along the way by UE members. This struggle is one that exists today with B.B.

We have a proud history of UE Local 123 — 50 years of rank and file democracy. We should all be proud of this union and the battles fought by all generations of UE 123 members that have secured reasonable wages, benefits and working conditions.

Submitted by George Waksmunksi/UE Local 123

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