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Working it out

Published: Mon, September 3, 2012 @ 12:08 a.m.

On Labor Day, Valley reflects on evolution from adversarial to collaborative

By Burton Speakman


  UAW Beginnings @ Lordstown


The early days of unions in the Mahoning Valley included strife with management, frequent strikes and gains for employees.

Decades later, the confrontation is mostly gone, and labor and management have a much-less contentious relationship.

The Valley has a strong history of organized labor, and despite fewer workers in the private-industry unions, there has been growth locally in the public-sector unions such as those who represent teachers, state and local government workers along with university staff and faculty, said Dr. Thomas Leary, a history professor at Youngstown State University.

The most significant change in the history of unions in this area is the change to a collaborative relationship between labor and management compared to the adversarial negotiations that existed in the past, he said. This change does not necessarily apply to all situations or industries, however.

“Lordstown is the obvious example going from the guerrilla tactics including wildcat strikes from the 1970s to the current situation where union leaders will say they work with management,” Leary said.

The early years of the UAW involved a number of strikes, walkouts and disagreements with management, said Paul Cubellis, a retired member of UAW 1112 who helped negotiate the first contract and who had multiple leadership positions with the union.

“Management used to scream at us. We had a bunch of young guys, many of whom had just gotten back from Vietnam and they weren’t going to put up with that,” said Darwin Cooper, a UAW 1112 retiree.

The relationship between the UAW and management was at its most stressed during the 1970s with hardly a year going by without a work stoppage or threat of one. There also were complaints during this time about working conditions, including an assembly line that was alleged to be running too fast.

“They had us producing 100 cars an hour, which was the fastest time in the world. All they were worried about were the numbers,” Cubellis said. “The vehicles were junk.”

There were bumpers that would just fall off vehicles, said Bill Bowers, a GM retiree and former UAW leader.

Now, management and labor work together because they understand that each needs the other, Cooper said.

“We had leverage. We knew it would cost the company millions of dollars and take six months to get production started at a new plant,” Bowers said. “We used that to get what we needed.”

Now GM could start at a new plant making the Cruze in a week, he said.

The union didn’t just fight with management. They created programs that helped save the company millions by reducing costs for workers’ compensation and supplies, Cubellis said.

Despite the improved labor-management relations, there are still tensions between the two in the Valley.

The Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association and Service Employees International Union District 1119 are operating without contracts with Community Health Systems, based in Tennessee, and both have had informational pickets.

Some of the current issues with medical workers and CHS is that by operating in a right-to-work state, the company has a traditional way it operates. The company might not be used to working in an area like the Valley, which has such a strong union history, Leary said.

“Both sides need to learn the rules of the game, which change depending on the players,” he said.

The first labor action recorded locally was in 1865 when coal miners in Mineral Ridge walked off the job in reaction to wage reductions. The workers were then locked out until they agreed to abandon the American Miners Association.

Organized labor efforts took off with the Valley’s steel workers. Early steel-worker strikes at times resulted in violence reactions from management.

For example, in the 1916 strike against Republic Iron & Steel and Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co., company-hired guards fired into a line of pickets, killing one and wounding dozens. The shooting caused a riot, and the Ohio National Guard was called.

The Little Steel Strike of 1937 was another that turned violent. During the strike, workers fought with police at Republic Steel resulting in one death and 14 injures. Then, on June 19, at Stop Five in Poland a riot resulted in two deaths and 14 injured, including a Vindicator photographer. The initial efforts were not a complete victory for the labor forces, but this strike started changes locally for organized labor.

The relationship between management and workers has changed considerably since the early days of organized labor, said Gary Steinbeck, subdistrict director for the United Steel Workers union.

In the early days, entire portions of the town were company-owned, and the companies controlled much about the lives of the workers. There were seven-day workweeks, and if someone got sick or needed a leave for a day or two the company would fire them, he said.

“When unions were started there were two classes — rich and poor people,” Steinbeck said.

The unions helped to develop the middle class in the United States, he said.

During the 1970s, steel plants closed throughout the nation including Black Monday in the Valley — Sept. 19, 1977, when the announcement came that a large portion of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. was closing, Steinbeck said.

“That’s when this area became the Rust Belt site,” he said.

Most people do not realize the benefits they enjoy — a 40-hour workweek, weekends, paid vacations, holidays, health-care benefits and pensions all come from the efforts of union members during the early days of organized labor, Steinbeck said.

Unions have been blamed for the economic issues that befell the Valley after Black Monday. But companies get the majority of the credit when business goes well, and they have to take the majority of the blame when things go poorly, Leary said.

The union officials should have adjusted during those early 1970s negotiations because they were still operating with a national mind-set when the steel industry had become a global business, he added.


1jethead11(139 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Labor Day will never be fully celebrated until workers can choose their own destiny, including not being forced to join a labor union that may or may not be in their best interest. Workers should and will someday have the right to negotiate for themselves and not be at the whim of a few who think they know better and who may have motives counter to the needs and desires of those they say they represent. Only when workers are set free and unionism is voluntary should this day be celebrated. Freedom is the American way, not forced unionism.

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2jethead11(139 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

You are right gdog, we are going to fight until right to work is national. Get used to it.

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3rmzrez(134 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Thats funny viny . Think you hit the pot on the head

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4southsidedave(5126 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Labor Day seems pointless for many people the past several years with such high employment.

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5Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Hey rmzrez & viny the botton line is
Never argue with a stupid person (pothead) for they will only bring
you down to their level and then beat you with experience

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6jackball(1 comment)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

I am a true American.

I was a UAW member for three years. I have also been a salary member for over 15 years. My entire family has been employed on both sides of the labor fence. My uncle was a foreman while my grandfather delivered vehicles for Anchor Motor Freight. If anyone understands the Automotive business it is I.

Currently, we cannot continue to let our work go overseas. Everyone would agree.

Now to several points.

Again, I have been around. What I am about to say is quite factual.

One of my good friends spent alot of time a Lordstown putting in new product. Based on his opinion, the union workforce clearly hindered the effectiveness of a quality product and launch. This is validated in your story.

Secondly, if the Lordstown facility was on the West or East coast then it would have been closed already. The only reason it is open is because of its close proximity to Michigan.

Again, I was on both sides and we cannot continue to pay a 10% union surcharge. That creates America's non-competitiveness.

Next, because of equality I think all employees of Domestic Automobile Manufactuer's should have the same benefits. Health, pension, sick time etc. This would take out alot of the BS.

Unlike Republicans and Democrats all automotive workers should unite. Lets make everyone equal cross the aisle.

Have a great Labor Day.

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7Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

What did you say ?????

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8Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates LABOR, he is a liar.
If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears LABOR, he is a fool

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9redeye1(5266 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

jackball your post is absoluttely correct. Can anyone really tell me if GM had gone through a normal bankruptcy That the Lordstown plant would have closed?. The answer is NO., because the Gov't interfere so that wouldn't happen. If a normal bankruptcy had happen then the people of the U.S.A. would not be waiting to be paid back .Also, so that UAW would go to bed with BO. And they have.

Blah You are also correct . I'm glad you are wising up to BO. I knew there was some hope for you. LMAO

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10MLC75(637 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

@pothead,right to work hurts everyone.

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11jethead11(139 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Gee, all of the hate, fear and name calling for just mentioning right to work. Worker choice is overwhelmingly popular in any poll you look at. If unions provide a service that people want or need, they will join. Forcing someone to join a union is simply Un-American and wrong. You union slugs are scared because when right to work does pass, and make no mistake, it will, you will lose over half of your dues paying members. Nearly 60% of public employees left the union when Wisconsin gave them the right to do so. Freedom will win over greed, no matter what kind of names you call people or what kind of thuggery you use. I think we've been through too much these last few years to care.

I actually do understand the arguement that there is strength in forcing people to join the union movement, even though it robs them of freedom. Other than that, why is anyone who does not profit from these workers' dues defending forced unionization? I'd really like to know.

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12NoBS(2321 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

jetboy, yeah, we've been through a lot in the past couple years. One of the major things we went through was stuffing SB5 down Kasich's craw. And please stop spreading propaganda about public employees in Wisconsin. I dispute your 60% figure, and if even one or two employees left their union, what kind of threats do you suppose it took for them to give up the protections that union membership provides? Or what kind of special treatment were they promised? Are they the hardest workers, or just the biggest brown-noses?

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13jethead11(139 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Hey BS, about Wisconsinites leaving the unions, go to the Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2012 for the numbers. Wisconsin is progressing, Ohio is not yet, but it will. Kasich did it wrong. He went about it all wrong and paid the price. Walker did it right.

Again, BS, unless you yourself profit on the backs of union members, why not give them the freedom of choice? No BS this time!

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14jethead11(139 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Here is the article, BS, in case your union blocks the Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001.... Google "Wisconsin Unions See Ranks Drop" if you prefer to do it that way. And all of you other union slugs should read it to. It is what's coming.

Wisconsin is a liberal state, and see what happened there when people were given freedom. No layoffs or pay cuts, by the way.

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15cambridge(3466 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

jethead....You know nothing of unions, not how they operate, how one becomes a member and what union's provide for their members.

I'll tell you how bad things are for unions, I belong to an industrial pipe fitters union. Journeymen rate is currently $52.00 dollars an hour for the first 8, time and a half for the next two and double time every hour after that. Saturday is time and a half for the first eight then double time. Sunday's are double time. Holidays (shutdowns usually on holiday weekends) triple time. Foreman make 10% over scale, general foreman 20% and senior general foreman 30%.

We also get that "Cadillac Health Plan" for life that all those without cry about. A sizable pension along with a 401. The firm that manages the 401 charge $25 per quarter and $25 a transaction per account. The member runs their own account and you can buy and sell all day every day for $25 per. The union could negotiate that deal because of the size of the investment and the thousands of accounts.

I worked my last fifteen years in the office and negotiated my own deal. Whoever I worked for paid into all of my union benefits and i always negotiated $10-$15 over the current journeymen rate. The skill's from the union training programs an the field experience is what got myself and many others that moved to the office the ability for us to "NEGOTIATE OUR OWN DEAL."

Now tell me about your non union pay and life long benefits.

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16redeye1(5266 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Cambridge I have a cousin who is welder down in Maryland who left the union. He was trained by the Navy, He now works for himself. He makes a boat load of money because he can pick and choose who he wants to work for. He sets his own rates, he doesn't have to pay high union dues. He works 7 days a week if he wants to , But he doesn't . He does alot of work for the federal Gov't. He said he got tired of being told where and when he could work . So being in the union isn't everything for everybody. Some people travel a different road to sucess.

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17jethead11(139 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Cambridge, those are all great benefits and most likely worth your dues. If you like those benefits, stay in your union. I'm not saying you shouldn't. Your union gives you something for your money. But people who are in situations where they don't like or believe in unions should be able to stop paying and leave the union if the choose. All I advocate is the freedom to choose. You would choose to stay because your union, and many skilled trade unions, have excellent benefits and are worth every penny. Unions like yours will do fine in a right to work environment because they offer something. Others do not offer much of anything, and members should be free to opt out if they want to without the whole recall garbage. As for me, I do fine. Money and security are not an issue.

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18Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Give up pothead . Your lies are showing `

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19jethead11(139 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Gdog, get ready, the fight is about to start.

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20cambridge(3466 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

jethead.....If I remember correctly, you work for a non union airline, if not I apologize in advance for my remarks. But if you do work for a non union airline you don't make jack. I know that because my ex wife worked for a union airline and she didn't make jack.

You imply that unions require their members to join and somehow keep them from leaving and still earn a wage in the same industry. None of that is true. When a company makes the choice to sign a labor agreement with a union it's the company from then on that requires their labor be union.

My union is nothing more than a hiring hall. It's exactly like a tool rental business. They need to rent some labor, they go where they can get highly skilled, educated, experience dependable labor. When they're done with them they return them where they got them with a little more ware and tear on them.

Anyone who wants to leave my union and work for non union contractors is free to do so and neither myself or anyone I've worked with would wish them any ill will. I couldn't care less.

I've belonged to more than one union in my life and my experience is nothing like you describe it. I have to say it again, you know nothing of unions and you shouldn't be making false claims about something you clearly know nothing about.

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21DSquared(1531 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Aaaaaah, the good ol' days at Lordstown. a six pack and a big fat spliff at lunchtime!

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22jethead11(139 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Cambridge, I used to work for a couple of non-union airlines, one being Delta, and if you look, all of our work groups make more than their union counterparts, and every union that came from Northwest was voted out because the union workers made, in some cases, a lot less. Plenty of articles about it online.

I do want to clarify something as I do tend to talk in soundbytes on this board. There are two different types of unions. You are in a trade union. I understand them very well and strongly support them. I currently own a couple of businesses and interests in others and I use trade unions exclusively. Their members are the best trained, they take care of their members, and weed out the bad ones. You pay more, but you get the best work. I have no problem with them, support them and wish them well.

The type of union I am out to get are the one's that are solely negotiators for their members, and do not permit their members to opt out. The company requires membership because its in the union contract written in by the union. I can send you these clauses offline if you like, trust me, I am very aware of how these guys work. The UAW is one, UFCW, AFA, TWU, USWU, AFSCME, etc. They don't train or control their members, don't offer a strong workforce for the company or government, they only negotiate and send money to the Democrats. There is serious corruption in many of these unions and the union bosses make a killing (all publicly available information). The worker is trapped because the government allows this. Right to work is a reasonable solution. This permits those who want to stay in the union the option, and forces the union to compete for members. Competition is good for everyone.

I've spent about 22 years on union affairs so I know them pretty well. There is good and bad, and choice is the best thing for everyone.

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23cambridge(3466 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Everyone already has the choice. Apply for work at a union shop or a non union shop. I don't see what the problem is, unless if someone wanted all the negotiated benefits and conditions but didn't want to pay the dues.

More than 90% of private companies are non union. Just go work there. Why is it such a big deal to you what other people do? No one is forcing you to do business with them. Just do business with their non union counterparts and let that less then 10% of the private work force that's union do their jobs and live their lives without you. Believe me they wont care.

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24JoeFromHubbard(1487 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Looks like "jethead11" is ahead by a few points, so far.

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25IslandMike(764 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Organized management will look out for the best interest of the wage & hour employees. NOT.

Anyone notice a correlation between there being a shrinking middle class and a shrinking number of labor unions?

Unoins brought us the miiddle class.
Unions brought us the weekend
Unions brought us health benefits
Unions brought us retirement benefits
Unions brought us overtime pay
Unions brought us paid holidays


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26JoeFromHubbard(1487 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

You can thank the Democrats for opening the doors to "free trade" agreements which allowed management to escape the unsustainable costs of unions. This escalated the decline of them.

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27IslandMike(764 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

You can thank the republicons for the massive influx of illegals that came into this country. They brought them here to try to break the unions and drive wages down, now that it's an election year they repeat their same old rhetoric, "lets build a fence...." PATHETIC. the ONLY reason the repubs now DO want to sent them back is because 80% of Latinos vote democratic.

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28jethead11(139 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Cambridge, it is a little more complicated than that. The steelworkers had a cartel on labor, and look how that turned out. So does the UAW on "American" cars. If you live in Youngstown and want to work for an auto maker, you have to join a union. You should not have to move to do that. You should not have to join IAM to be an airline mechanic, which you have to at some airlines. You should not have to pay $100 to work at Giant Eagle even before you get a paycheck, just because it is union. It is something I am passionate about, and is a wrong I think needs corrected. I think a lot people care, but even if they don't, it's my cause. America is about freedom and choice for everyone, not just those that live in right to work states (which, by the way, I do).

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29IslandMike(764 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

The repubs forgot that when the union busting, job stealing illegals came here that when they had children, those children would grow up to vote. Sorry repubs.

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30Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

pothead you lose

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31cambridge(3466 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

jethead....you're worried that if you want to be an auto worker on American made cars that you would have to belong to a union.

I'm worried that if you are an auto worker at a Honda, Toyota, Mercedes Benz or any other auto companies plant anywhere in the world you would have to belong to a union....except America.

There in lies the rub.

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32JoeFromHubbard(1487 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

@ IslandMike :

>> thank the republicons for the massive influx of union busting, job stealing illegals <<

That would make an excellent topic for a conspiracy theorist, it even sounds plausible.

The illegals are here for the gravy covered gold which no one seems eager to protect or hide from them regardless on which side of the isle they sit.

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