United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America
||This article possibly contains original research. (January 2013)|
|Full name||United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America|
|Office location||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania|
|Website||UE - The Rank-and-File Union|
The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), is an independent democratic rank-and-file labor union representing workers in both the private and public sectors across the United States.
UE was one of the first unions to be chartered by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and grew to over 600,000 members in the 1940s. UE was founded in March 1936 by several independent industrial unions which had been organized from the ground up in the early and mid-1930s by workers in major plants of the General Electric Company, Westinghouse Electric, RCA and other leading electrical equipment and radio manufacturers.
In 1937 a group of local unions in the machine shop industry, led by James J. Matles, left the International Association of Machinists (IAM), objecting to that union's policies of racial discrimination, and joined the young UE. UE withdrew from affiliation with CIO in 1949 over differences related to the developing Cold War. It suffered significant losses of membership through the 1950s to raids by other unions, in particular the International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE) which was set up by the CIO in 1949 with the goal of replacing UE. The UE and IUE were fierce rivals for many years, but in the 1960s began to cooperate in bargaining with General Electric and other employers.
Now representing 35,000 workers in a variety of industries, UE continues actively organizing private and public sector workers, and its democratic structure and practices have attracted several small independent unions to affiliate. Over the past two decades the union has built a strategic alliance with the Authentic Labor Front, an independent Mexican union, and UE is broadly active in international labor outreach and solidarity.
Today UE is regarded as one of the most democratic and politically progressive national unions in the United States, and its philosophy and principle of democratic unionism is summed up in its longstanding slogan, "The members run this union."
The fundamental unit of UE is the local union. Because UE was founded by existing independent local unions, the union is structured to provide a higher degree of autonomy to locals than in many other national unions. Local union members elect their local officers, negotiators, stewards, and delegates to the regional council and national convention; set policies for their local, including financial decisions; suggest bargaining demands and vote to approve the union’s full list of contract proposals; vote to ratify or reject contracts and supplemental agreements with the employer; and decide whether to strike, and when to end a strike, by majority vote.
Most UE locals hold monthly membership meetings. Field representatives from the national union assist local unions with bargaining and other activities, but UE’s constitution forbids the staff “to interfere with UE rank-and-file control, including election processes.” Trusteeship of local unions (takeover of a local by the national union) is not provided for in the UE constitution, and has therefore never occurred.
From its founding through 2005 UE had an intermediate structure of geographic districts. In 2005 the districts were replaced by three regions, Western, Eastern and Northeast. Each region holds meetings two or three times a year, composed of delegates from local unions. The regions elect their own officers and representatives to the General Executive Board (the national board of UE), including a full-time regional president. The regions coordinate work among the locals in their area, including solidarity, political action and union education. Several times a year the regions organize training workshops and other educational events through sub-regions – smaller geographic subdivisions.
Until 2003 UE held annual conventions, a frequency rare in organized labor; the union's conventions are now biannual. The five-day convention, consisting of elected delegates from UE locals across the country, is the highest decision-making body of the union. It discusses and approves policy resolutions submitted by locals and regions, on matters ranging from the union's bargaining and organizing strategies to domestic and foreign policy issues. Convention delegates participate in workshops and other educational and cultural events; elect the union’s three national officers as well as the national trustees; and debate and vote on all proposed amendments to the UE constitution.
The salaries of the national officers and staff are specified in the UE constitution, so giving raises to UE's paid officials requires amending the constitution at convention. All amendments to the constitution approved by the convention (including the proposed pay increases) are then sent to all UE locals, to be ratified or rejected by members voting at local union meetings in the weeks following the convention. Every member therefore has a direct vote on whether or not the pay of their national officers and staff will be increased.
Between conventions, decisions of the national union are made by the General Executive Board, consisting of the three national officers, the three regional presidents, and 12 additional rank-and-file representatives elected by the regions.
One feature that has distinguished UE from many other U.S. labor unions is its strong emphasis on frugality and financial responsibility.
Since UE’s founding, its constitution has limited the pay of its officers to “a salary not to exceed the highest weekly wage paid in the industry.” Linked to the pay rates of production workers at GE, the annual salaries of UE’s three national officers are currently $62,072 – a fraction of what other unions pay their officers. The salaries of UE regional officers, staff, and those local officers who work for the union full-time, follow the same principle and are somewhat lower. UE is the only national union in the U.S. that explicitly limits the pay of officers to a pay level of members  As noted above, all increases in the pay of UE national officers and staff must be approved by delegates to the national convention, as amendments to the union constitution, and then ratified by membership vote at local union meetings.
UE’s policy on salaries is deeply rooted in UE’s philosophy of unionism. UE sees unionism as a movement and unions as independent organizations of workers. When union leaders live in the same income bracket as rank-and-file workers, it helps them to stay in touch with the outlook and needs of workers. In UE's view, salaries for union officers and staff that are comparable to those of corporate executives tend to undermine a union’s commitment to its fundamental purpose.
From the local to the national level, UE has a strong ethic of accountability and transparency in all its financial practices, and opposes any trace of what it calls “petty corruption” among union officials. UE leaders at all levels are taught that union funds belong to the members, and that members are entitled to detailed reports on union finances at all levels, and to democratically decide on major spending.
Bargaining and grievances
UE’s approach to collective bargaining places a premium on membership involvement. In preparation for contract bargaining, UE locals solicit ideas for contract changes from their members, and most locals then conduct a membership vote to approve the full slate of union proposals. UE bargaining committees regularly report back to members, both orally and through publications, during the course of bargaining.
UE routinely rejects management pleas for bargaining "blackouts,” gag rules which prohibit open communication to rank-and-file union members during negotiations. The union frequently calls on its members to collectively demonstrate their support for the union’s bargaining goals during contract talks, by wearing T-shirts, buttons or stickers with union insignia and slogans; speaking up to management on key bargaining issues; and through rallies, informational picketing and other actions. Some UE locals even insist on the right of rank-and-file members to attend negotiating sessions as observers.
UE is very explicit in mandating that all union negotiations are a collective endeavor. The UE constitution states: "No representative of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) shall negotiate alone with the employer." UE feels that its open and participatory approach to bargaining results in better contracts than bargaining methods which restrict member involvement. Illustration of how UE negotiates with employers can be seen in the union’s detailed web reports on its 2011 national bargaining with GE.
Fighting for workers over day-to-day injustices on the job is, in UE's view, a central task of unions. The “first line of defense” in UE’s workplace organization consists of elected shop stewards within each department or workgroup. Among unions UE has one of the highest ratios of stewards to members, and aims for a steward-to-supervisor ratio of at least one to one. UE has a strong training program for its stewards, distributes a Steward Kit that includes the exemplary “UE Steward Handbook,” and publishes a monthly publication, the UE Steward, that provides tactical tips to stewards and local officers for dealing with workplace problems.
UE’s approach to grievances includes careful investigation of the issue by the steward, being well-prepared for meetings with the employer, and strategies for organizing and mobilizing members to pressure management to resolve the problem. UE warns its locals against excessive reliance on grievance arbitration, pointing out that the majority of arbitration decisions are in favor of management, and that an arbitrator’s unfavorable interpretation of a contract clause can harm the union for many years. UE avoids arbitrating grievances that it believes it is unlikely to win and trains its staff and local officers to carefully prepare for those cases they do take to arbitration. In most UE locals, the decision whether to arbitrate a grievance is made by membership vote.
In the UE national contract with GE, UE locals retain the right to strike over grievances. Such grievance strikes by UE-GE locals are infrequent and usually of short duration, but the existence of this option gives the union added clout and helps it to favorably resolve many grievances.
Early history: growth and schism
The CIO granted UE the first charter on November 16, 1938. UE was founded at a March 1936 meeting of existing local unions in plants of the electrical equipment and radio industries, a few months the founding of the CIO. In September 1936 the AFL suspended its member unions that had started the CIO – originally called the Committee on Industrial Organization and formed by existing industrial unions within the AFL as a caucus to promote organizing industrial unions in mass production industries. The AFL, dominated by craft unions, soon escalated the conflict by expelling the CIO unions, prominent among which were John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers (UMW) and Sidney Hillman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA). Over the next few years a dramatic wave of strikes and mass organizing by industrial workers rapidly built the membership of the CIO and of newly formed industrial unions such as UE, the United Auto Workers (UAW), United Rubber Workers, and United Steelworkers (USW).
The UE expanded greatly over the next decade, organizing workers of the major corporations in the electrical equipment, radio and machine tool industries. The union won a contentious strike at RCA and organized additional plants of GE, Westinghouse, GM's electrical division and smaller companies in its base industries. The union signed its first national contract with GE in 1938; Westinghouse, which more stubbornly resisted unionization of its plants, did not sign an agreement until 1941. By the end of World War II, UE was the third largest CIO union, with a membership of over 600,000.
As in many of the new CIO unions organized in the 1930s, the membership and leaders of UE included a variety of radicals, including socialists and communists, as well as New Deal liberals and Catholics. Among the organizers and leaders of UE Local 107 at the Westinghouse South Philadelphia works were several former members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). While foes of UE in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s charged the union with "communist domination," recent studies  have demonstrated that UE was and remains one of the most democratic U.S. labor unions and that its policies differed markedly from those of the US Communist Party on a number of major issues during those decades.
Following the outbreak of World War II, UE joined with other unions in the CIO in urging a no-strike pledge and higher productivity for the duration of the war, which UE viewed as a struggle against world fascism and therefore worthy of labor's support. The UE also supported expanded use of piecework systems in industry, which it defended as both necessary to boost production and a way to improve workers' earnings under the wartime wage control systems imposed by the War Labor Board. This appears, in fact, to be largely true: the incentive systems that management used were their loosest during World War II and represented an important, and generally popular, form of compensation for workers.
UE continued to bargain aggressively for its members during the war, winning numerous improvements in contract language and benefits. Despite the War Labor Board's policy of freezing wages for the duration of the war, UE leaders devised creative strategies to win WLB approval of pay increases for many of their members. And despite the union's support for the no-strike pledge, UE leaders supported militant actions by their members, such as a strike by UE members at a Babcock and Wilcox plant in New Jersey.
Soon after the war ended, beginning in late 1945, the three largest unions of the CIO engaged in a national strike to regain economic ground lost by workers during the war, when wages had been frozen but industrial profits had risen significantly. The United Auto Workers shut down the auto plants of General Motors; UE struck GE, Westinghouse, and the GM electrical division, and the United Steelworkers stopped work in the basic steel industry. The 1946 strikes were successful, but the outcome stiffened the resolve of industrialists to break the power of the CIO through a strategy of divide-and-conquer. The brewing Cold War with the Soviet Union would provide the opportunity, and in October 1946 GE's Charles Wilson summarized the political program of big business when he declared that the problems of the United States could be summed up as "Russia abroad, labor at home."
Republican victories in the elections of 1946 had brought a much more conservative Congress to Washington, with a determination to curb labor. The Taft-Hartley Act, drafted in large part by lobbyists for the National Association of Manufacturers, General Electric, Inland Steel and other industrialists, represented a major revision of the Wagner Act that significantly weakened labor's ability to organize and effectively negotiate.
Among its many anti-union provisions was a clause requiring officers of all unions to sign "non-communist affidavits," swearing that they were not members of the Communist Party. Leaders of virtually all CIO and AFL unions denounced this new law, and in particular called the non-communist affidavit clause an intolerable government interference in internal union matters and an encroachment on freedom of speech and association. Union leaders vowed to boycott the Taft-Hartley labor board and agreed in principle that all would refuse to sign the affidavits. But few lived up to that pledge.
Some union leaders, including Walter Reuther of the UAW, signed the Taft-Hartley affidavits and then proceeded to raid (attempt to replace) locals of UE and the Farm Equipment Workers (FE), whose leaders were still holding out and refusing to sign. This meant that the raiding union, UAW, would appear on the NLRB ballot, but the incumbent union, UE or FE, could not.
The CIO, under President Philip Murray, did nothing to discourage the United Auto Workers from poaching on UE shops in the arms and typewriter industries in the Connecticut River Valley; other unions affiliated with the AFL, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, likewise displaced the UE in some plants.
Fissures within UE that appeared around the 1941 convention (when James Carey had been defeated as UE president by Albert J. Fitzgerald, a GE worker from Lynn, Massachusetts) reopened in the late-40's national political environment of anti-communist hysteria. Up-and-coming Republican politicians, such as Congressman Richard Nixon of California and Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, built their careers by conducting witch-hunts for imagined "Communist subversion" within the federal government, and by red-baiting their election opponents. The CIO itself was a prime target of the Republican red-baiters. CIO leaders such as Philip Murray of the Steelworkers and Walter Reuther of the UAW responded to these attacks by purging their own unions of radicals, and by attacking those CIO unions, such as UE, that held out against the red-baiting tide. Investigations by the House Un-American Activities Committee and criticism from groups such as the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, which actively organized dissenters within UE into an opposition faction, put UE leaders on the defensive.
Anti-communist raids by other unions removed some conservative members and locals from UE, thereby weakening the right-wing internal opposition. Nonetheless oppositionists were confident that the national political atmosphere would enable them to seize power in UE at the union's 1949 convention. But the right-wing candidates were soundly defeated. UE's convention delegates instead backed their national officers' demands that the CIO stop the UAW and other CIO unions from raiding UE.
To defend the union from future raids, UE reversed its refusal to sign Taft-Hartley affidavits, enabling the union to again appear on the ballot in NLRB representation elections. When the CIO refused to take action to stop CIO-affiliated unions from raiding other CIO unions, UE boycotted the CIO's national convention in 1949 and withheld its per capita dues payments, effectively resigning its affiliation to the CIO. The CIO responded by announcing the expulsion of UE as well as that of the United Farm Equipment Workers (FE); the following year the CIO expelled nine other progressive unions.
Of the 11 "left" unions that were expelled or resigned from the CIO in 1949-50, only UE and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union remain in existence today. All of the others were broken by the relentless attacks of employers, the government and other unions through the period of McCarthyism.
In the case of UE, the CIO went a step further, chartering a rival union, the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (IUE), that would attempt to destroy and replace UE. James Carey, the ex-president of UE, was appointed president of the IUE. The IUE wrested away many of the locals in the radio assembly and light manufacturing industries; the UE held on to much of its base in machine building. In the heavy electrical equipment plants, on the other hand, the two factions each had substantial strength. The resulting battles were fierce: in Local 601, which represented Westinghouse workers in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and whose members had a tradition of radical politics dating back to Eugene V. Debs' candidacy for President in 1912, the two factions were led by brothers Mike and Tom Fitzgerald, who attacked each other personally as vigorously as the factions did on political issues. The IUE won a close election, with the semi-skilled workers supporting the IUE while more skilled workers favored the UE.
Employers, the federal government, the news media and other establishment forces played major roles in the efforts to eliminate UE. UE was subjected to an endless barrage of inquisitions by Congressional committees, such as the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Sen. Joseph McCarthy's Subcommittee on Investigations, and a similar committee chaired by Sen. John Marshall Butler. In several instances, these committees used subpoena power to set up UE members to be fired by their employers, unless the subpoenaed worker cooperated by "naming names," and thereby subjected other workers to the inquisition.
GE fired John Nelson, president of UE's large Local 506 in Erie, Pennsylvania, on just such grounds. The stress resulting from his own firing and the unrelenting persecution of his union destroyed Nelson's health; he died in 1959 at the age of 42. McCarthy's "investigations" were sometimes carefully scheduled to help the IUE and the companies against UE. In 1953 he held a hearing in Lynn, Massachusetts on the eve of an NLRB election between UE and IUE at the major GE plant there. His grilling of UE members, in the guise of investigating "Communist subversion," made for sensationalist news headlines and helped the IUE eke out a narrow win.
Several UE shop leaders, as well as UE Secretary-Treasurer Julius Emspak, were put on trial on contempt charges for refusing to cooperate with HUAC. The federal government tried unsuccessfully to take away James Matles's citizenship and deport him; the UE national organizing director had immigrated from Romania as a youth. Other similar prosecutions, harassment by the FBI, vicious attacks in local newspapers, and denunciation by politicians, kept UE under siege for years.
The red-baiting attacks on UE during the McCarthy era did tremendous damage to the union, but were eventually shown, even in the prevailing atmosphere of anti-red hysteria, to have no legal merit. Most of the legal cases against UE leaders were eventually withdrawn or defeated in the courts, and in March 1959 the U.S. Justice Department was forced to drop its prosecution of UE on charges that the union was "Communist-dominated."
It seems a miracle that UE survived the 1950s at all, with attacks coming at it from all directions: the federal administration, Congress, Republicans and Democrats, news media, "mainstream" unions of both CIO and AFL, and even some members of the clergy. What helped UE to weather these storms was its own democratic structure and manner of operation, and its superior record of representing members (when contrasted with the IUE, for example) in collective bargaining and in fighting for shop grievances. Both of these attributes engendered fierce loyalty to UE among many of its members, even as the union was being slandered by powerful forces as some sort of national security threat.
UE loyalists counteracted the IUE by highlighting its relative weakness in standing up to management, and derisively characterized the acronym IUE as standing for "Imitation UE."
While the UE and the IUE won roughly equal number of elections through the first half of the 1950s, the IUE came away with larger numbers of members, particularly in the growing field of consumer electronics. Other unions, including the IBEW, the IAM, the UAW, the United Steel Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, also wedged in during these elections. The IUE, moreover, found itself divided, as the divergent groups that had allied to oppose the UE now found it hard to work with each other once in power.
James Carey's arrogance eventually caught up with him within the IUE as it had in UE. In 1965 he was defeated for the presidency of IUE by one of his own lieutenants, leaving him with the dubious distinction of being the only person in U.S. labor history to be elected, and subsequently thrown out, as national president of two different unions.
During World War II and continuing through the Cold War, UE took a more progressive position on women's rights than other unions, advocating "equal pay for equal work" during the war in successful suits against GE and Westinghouse before the War Labor Board and, after the war, resisting employers' attempts to drive married women out of industry and to deny seniority and maternity leave to women workers. The 1946 strike at GE was prolonged by the company's insistence on giving a smaller wage increase to its women employees, whom GE president Charles E. Wilson contemptuously dismissed as "bobbysoxers." With all other strike issues resolved, UE held out on the picket lines until GE agreed that women would receive the same raises as men. In the early 1950s, while the union was under attack from all directions, UE organized a series of district and national conferences on the problems of women workers. Local union leaders who opposed UE's policies on gender equality often bolted to the IUE, and took members with them.
UE also stood out in that period for its advocacy of equality for African American workers. In July 1950 UE leaders appointed Ernest Thompson, a black international representative and former rank-and-file factory worker, as secretary of the UE Fair Practices Committee. In essence the union's affirmative action officer, Thompson met with the leadership of UE locals around the country to develop and implement action plans to force employers to hire more black workers, and to give African Americans opportunities to advance into skilled trades jobs. In the midst of the Cold War assaults on UE, the union's newspaper reported such success stories as the promotion of a black worker at Johnson Machine to lathe operator. The company had insisted that this worker was unqualified and refused to train him, so white union members had taught him the job during their lunch breaks.
UE spoke out frequently against the racist government policies of the time, drawing attention to the injustices of "Jim Crow" racial segregation and denial of black voting rights. UE called for reinstating the federal Fair Employment Practices Committee, a wartime agency created by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt to stop discrimination in industry, which was disbanded after the war by President Harry Truman. Here again, UE's progressive position was used against it by its foes; in several instances the IUE openly appealed for the votes of white workers on the basis of racial bigotry and by attacking UE's support for racial equality.
By 1954, UE officers reported that 87 percent of all UE contracts contained no-discrimination clauses, an achievement that placed UE far ahead of other unions.
A second wave of defections in the mid-1950s took several important UE locals, which had survived earlier raiding, into the IUE and other unions. The UE's membership dropped from 200,000 in 1953 to 58,000 in 1960. Some of the losses resulted from companies, including GE and Westinghouse, moving portions of their manufacturing from older plants in the Northeast to new plants in the South and West.
The split of 1955-56 largely involved tactical disagreements over how to move the UE's progressive program and brand of unionism forward in the face of the AFL-CIO merger. It proved a bitter disappointment to UE activists who had managed to bring the union successfully through the hardest years of the McCarthy period and the Cold War but who were now unable to keep the union together. Most locals in the UE's New York-north Jersey district (UE District 4) voted to go into the IUE reasoning that they had the strength and experience to influence the policies of the newer union. While this move was resented by UE activists elsewhere, especially in Pennsylvania and the midwest, the District 4 activists felt that the UE forces could soon have regained control of the re-united organization had the whole union followed their lead. By the mid-1960s, the former UE activists in IUE shops played a role in helping to bring about James Carey's ouster in a disputed election. Carey's departure eventually opened the way for the co-ordinated bargaining which partially healed the two decade old division in the industry.
UE reshapes itself
The UE and IUE began to cooperate in bargaining after the IUE's disastrous 1960 strike against GE. In the successful 103-day national strike in 1969-70, UE and IUE led an alliance of unions which broke the back of Boulwarism, GE’s aggressive 20-year-long policy of “take-it-or-leave-it” bargaining. Boulwarism was named for Lemuel Boulware, the company’s vice president of labor and community relations, who devised the strategy in reaction to UE's success in the 1946 strike, and to capitalize on the bitter divisions, after 1949, in the ranks of GE union members. The 1970s brought UE renewed growth through successful organizing. UE lost many members in the 1980s and 1990s as the flight of many manufacturing plants abroad led to plant closings by both major employers in the electrical manufacturing industry, as well as by smaller UE employers.
Despite shrinkage of GE's U.S. manufacturing employment, UE remains a major force within General Electric today and plays a leading role in negotiating contracts that cover members of 13 unions in GE through the Coordinated Bargaining Committee. UE’s role in the union coalition resulted in union gains in 2007 national negotiations with GE.
The UE has broadened its scope in recent years, organizing public employees, service industry workers, school and college employees, and others. The UE has also replaced some other unions in workplaces where the existing unions has failed to adequately represent the membership.
The UE has entered into a Strategic Organizing Alliance with the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT), Mexico's Authentic Labor Front, in which the UE and FAT collaborate in organizing and educational projects. UE's organizing alliance with the FAT started in 1992 and grew from the two organizations' shared opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The UE has also formed alliances with non-labor groups, both in the U.S. and internationally, through the World Social Forum, to fight the effects of corporate globalization promoted by institutions of global capital such as the International Monetary Fund and free trade agreements modeled on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Beginning in the mid-1990s, UE has been organizing state and municipal workers in North Carolina, chartering their statewide organization as UE Local 150. A North Carolina state law dating to the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, General Statute 95-98, prohibits public employees from bargaining labor contracts. UE is campaigning to repeal that act and replace it with legislation to facilitate public sector bargaining.
As part of that campaign, UE in December 2005 brought a complaint before the International Labor Organization, the UN’s labor agency, charging that the North Carolina bargaining ban violates international agreements on labor rights, which uphold the right of nearly all workers to form unions and bargain collectively. In March 2007 the ILO ruled in favor of UE, and called upon the United States and North Carolina to repeal GS 95-98 and begin discussions with unions to establish “a framework for collective bargaining.” UE’s Mexican ally the FAT, with the support of 52 other U.S., Mexican, Canadian and global labor organizations, filed a complaint in October 2006 with the Mexican National Administrative Office – a body established to address complaints of labor rights violations under NAFTA. The complaint charges that the North Carolina bargaining ban violates the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), the labor-rights side agreement to NAFTA. In November 2007 the Mexican NAO launched an investigation into those charges.
The plight of North Carolina public employees was dramatized in September 2006 when sanitation workers for the City of Raleigh conducted a two-day strike over unfair treatment and working conditions. Since the stoppage those workers, organized by UE Local 150, have won improvements and regular consultation of city officials with their elected union leaders. UE has expanded its public sector organizing to two other states in the Upper South that also lack public employee bargaining rights, establishing UE Local 160 in Virginia and UE Local 170 in West Virginia.
UE has also become known throughout the U.S. labor movement as the "National Home for Independent Unions", and works with many independent unions across the country. Over the past 20 years a number of existing independent unions have affiliated with UE, seeking the resources, support and solidarity of a national union and attracted by UE's democratic structure and practices.
One such victory came in July 2005 when the 2,500 member Connecticut Independent Labor and Police Unions (CILU/CIPU) voted by an overwhelming margin to become UE Local 222. Since joining UE, Local 222's work has focused on bringing democracy, justice and equality to the workplace, and on organizing and mobilizing its members and local communities in fights for gender pay equity, ending all forms of discrimination, and health care for all. The local has also added members by organizing additional groups of school and municipal workers in Connecticut.
The Republic Plant Occupation of 2008
On December 5, 2008, members of UE Local 1110 at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago, when the plant closed with only three days notice to the employees, occupied the plant in protest of the closing and company's failure to pay employees their accrued vacation pay, and payments required under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The WARN Act requires 60 days notice of a plant closing, or 60 days pay if timely notice is not given. The workers' action drew extensive media coverage and attracted wide support, including from U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich banned state business with Bank of America, because the bank's cancellation of the company's line of credit had prompted the shutdown. Protest demonstrations at Bank of America branches took place in dozens of U.S. cities during the sit-in. On December 10 the union members voted to end the occupation after Republic, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and the union negotiated a settlement that paid each worker eight weeks wages, plus all accumulated vacation pay, and health insurance for two months.
Two months later a California window manufacturer, Serious Materials, purchased the former Republic plant and reopened it, reinstating the union workers to their jobs in order of seniority and signing a labor contract with UE Local 1110 that was substantially the same as the union's former contract with Republic. In April 2009 Vice President Joe Biden visited the plant and met with company officials and union leaders, praising the reopening of the plant as "a big deal."
In February 2012 Serious Materials management announced the plant's immediate closing. The news was unexpected and the union responded in the same way it had four years prior. Despite its drastic diminution - Serious Materials had called back 75 of the plant's 250 employees, with only 38 employed by the closing's announcement - workers successfully negotiated an agreement with management by that night. Assistance and publicity coincided with the Occupy movement in Chicago, members of which came to the plant. The union agreed to 90 days of employment before the plants closing.
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