About 40 area United Auto Workers members gathered at the University of Toledo yesterday to hear from the leader of a small but growing dissident movement within the union that advocates greater activism at the shop-floor level.
"This is not about changing the leadership [of the UAW]. This is about developing methods of concerted activity," said Gregg Shotwell, founder and unofficial head of a grass-roots group called Soldiers of Solidarity.
The group, which doesn't collect dues and has no official membership, describes itself as an informal network of like-minded workers. It has no political ambitions or designs to "take over the palace," he said.
Soldiers of Solidarity was born in October out of the Delphi Corp. bankruptcy and attempts by the company to drastically slash workers' pay and benefits and reduce pensions.
Rather than accept Delphi's terms or negotiated buyouts of workers, Soldiers of Solidarity has advocated that the UAW take control "at the point of production," rather than the bargaining table.
The strategy advocated by the dissidents is "work-to-rule," or strict adherence to the labor contract, which has the net effect of slowing production.
Larry Whitcomb, education director at UAW Local 14 in Toledo, which represents workers at General Motors' Toledo Powertrain Plant, said Mr. Shotwell's ideas are a wake-up call for all union members nationwide.
"We have enough power in our membership. Solidarity is the key. But we don't have it anymore," Mr. Whitcomb said.
Mr. Shotwell, 55, a member of UAW Local 2151 who has spent 27 years as a machine operator at Delphi's fuel-injector plant in Coopersville, Mich., said he and other workers felt that the UAW leadership was too cooperative with Delphi, especially with agreeing to buyouts.
"For some people, [buyouts] work. For a lot of people it puts them in a position where they have to go out before they're ready, and they aren't sure if it's going to be enough," he said.
A meeting in Coopersville drew half of the 500 employees at the local plant, and similar meetings have been held at Delphi plants elsewhere.
Mr. Shotwell said he noticed workers from General Motors, Chrysler, and other unions began attending the meetings. It suggested, he said, that Soldiers of Solidarity's message has struck a broader, deeper nerve beyond Delphi, hence yesterday's visit to Toledo.
Mr. Shotwell said Chrysler workers in Toledo are being squeezed from their jobs through outsourcing to non-union suppliers who will help supply Jeep. "These new supplier plants will be filled with people coming in at $14 an hour with no pensions. It presents an opportunity to organize fresh," he said.
For a first effort in Toledo, the meeting went well and gave the dissident group contacts through which to spread its message, he added. "There was high energy and we may meet again in the future," Mr. Shotwell said.
Contact Jon Chavez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6128.