- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The United Auto Workers union voted yesterday to tap its $914 million strike fund to pay for recruitment of new members.

The amendment to the union’s constitution, approved overwhelmingly by voice vote at the UAW’s convention in Las Vegas, allows the international leadership to spend up to $60 million from the strike fund mainly for organizing efforts during the four years between conventions.

UAW membership peaked in 1979 at 1.5 million. It dropped to 676,000 in 2002 and now stands at just less than 599,000, according to the union.

“It makes sense in terms of what it’s going to take to build the future strength of the UAW,” said Scott Bailey, president of Local 2865, a relatively new local that represents 12,000 academic student employees of the University of California.

Mr. Bailey told fellow members that organizing can often take a long time, that it took nearly two decades to change California law to allow academic student workers to organize.

“We all know that the industrial sector is flying away to right-to-work states, where it’s going to take time and big-time financial resources to win campaigns,” he said, referring to states with laws that do not favor unions.

The UAW said it has had success recently in organizing workers in health care, on college campuses, at auto dealerships and in the technical, office and professional sectors.

Officials say the union has recruited about 66,000 new members since its last convention in 2002, with 42,000 coming from the traditional manufacturing sector and another 24,000 from other areas.

But the growth hasn’t been enough to counter the loss of membership because of restructuring, plant closings, outsourcing and privatization, President Ron Gettelfinger said in his opening-day speech Monday.

The union is about to lose thousands more members in the manufacturing sector. Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. want to reduce their hourly work forces by 60,000, and suppliers represented by the UAW also are cutting jobs. Delphi Corp., GM’s largest supplier, plans to close 21 of its 29 U.S. plants by 2008 and cut its hourly work force by thousands.

The change approved yesterday by the union allows the UAW to use the $60 million for initiatives to bolster membership, strengthen its bargaining ability or promote the interests of members and working people.

The membership also authorized the union to transfer $50 million from the strike fund to the union’s general operating fund. And it voted to increase the dues rebates that locals get when the strike fund exceeds $550 million, giving them more money for operating costs.

One member said he was concerned that taking money from the strike fund sends the wrong message to corporate America about the union’s willingness to spend the money, while others said the change gives union leaders too much latitude in spending the $60 million.

But Mr. Gettelfinger said that should the union decide to strike against Delphi, the fund would be sufficient to provide strike benefits to workers for 153 weeks.

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