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Group seeks to empower workers


Published: Wed, March 22, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


SOS suggests workers make their impact felt on the shop floor.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A machine operator at a Delphi Corp. plant in Michigan says that production workers aren't helpless when it comes to company demands for wage and benefit concessions.
"Our lives are not totally out of control," said Gregg Shotwell, 55, suggesting that rank-and-file workers have more control than they realize.
That's why he helped organize a grass-roots movement known as Soldiers of Solidarity for Delphi workers after the company's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October.
"It was a spontaneous reaction to this bankruptcy," he said Tuesday in a phone call from Michigan.
SOS is coming to the Mahoning Valley on Sunday to hold a meeting for all working people concerned about Delphi's actions and the impact they will have, Shotwell said, pointing out that the company was proposing cutting the hourly rate for workers to $9.50 at one point.
"We're about trying to empower workers," Shotwell said, urging them to be active both on the shop floor and in the local union hall.
What's planned
Sunday's meeting, set for 1 p.m. in The Gallery of Kilcawley Center at Youngstown State University, will be an educational forum, said Tony Budak, a local Delphi retiree and editor of Community Labor News.
Delphi Packard Electric Systems in Warren has about 5,100 employees and thousands of retirees.
It was Budak who persuaded SOS to hold a meeting here.
The plan is to talk about inside strategies to bring pressure on the company, preparing to work without a contract, how to conduct a strike, whether there is security in retirement and if concessions save jobs, pensions and health care, he said.
Shotwell said SOS was created because it seemed the United Auto Workers was unsure of what to do in light of Delphi's actions.
"It's very much grass roots, or as we say, shop floor," he said, referring to the fact that its base is among the rank and file in Delphi factories.
SOS has been holding a number of meetings in communities where Delphi has facilities.
"The audience runs the meeting," he said, explaining that SOS won't be here to offer advice or tell local workers what they should do, though SOS members will tell what they have done in plants where they work.
Here's the purpose
The goal is to encourage a dialogue and encourage workers to get involved, Shotwell said.
The UAW has a place at the bargaining table, but the rank and file have their place on the shop floor, the point of production where profit is made or lost, he said.
SOS isn't interested in violence or sabotage but says workers can "work to rule" to make their impact felt, Shotwell said.
The term refers to workers' following exact safety and production rules at their place of work, a process that tends to slow down production, something the company doesn't want to see, he said.
Workers often take shortcuts and ignore safety procedures for the sake of production. Refusing to do that and insisting that all work rules are strictly followed sends a message to the company, Shotwell said.
"We let them know who really runs production," he said.
gwin@vindy.com


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