By KALEA HALL
UAW Local 1714
Robert Morales, UAW Local 1714 president, reflects on 47 years of UAW 1714.
Autoworkers signed the charter to establish United Auto Workers Local 1714 on Aug. 14, 1970.
The workers, employed in the fabrication side at the General Motors Lordstown Complex, first were encouraged to unify with the UAW Local 1112 assembly plant union.
VIDEO: UAW Local 1714
“They wanted us to be a part of them,” said Dave Kimmel, retiree and former president of UAW Local 1714. “If we became a part of them, we would have been the biggest local [union].”
Instead, workers – concerned about the different work issues between assembly and fabrication jobs – rejected that idea to form their own union.
Inside the conference room at the UAW 1714 hall on Salt Springs Road where the 1714 charter hangs in a frame, Kimmel and Mike Sullivan, 1714 retiree and chairman of the retirees’ chapter of UAW Local 1714, talk about the beginning of 1714 – and its coming end.
Local 1714 will soon merge into Local 1112, ending a nearly 50-year-long history.
The merger is aimed at providing a cost savings at GM Lordstown for GM.
“We are working to preserve our past, and we are working hard now to secure our futures,” said Robert Morales, president of the UAW Local 1714.
Both Kimmel and Sullivan have been involved in the union since the early 1970s.
“A lot of people thought your contract negotiations were about money, but from day one, it was about safety,” Kimmel said.
The fabrication plant is where a vehicle begins its journey. There, metal is fabricated and stamped to make the frame and the outer shell of a vehicle. Because of the welding and the equipment used in the fabrication plant, workers could get injured in many ways.
“A lot of that was negotiated, and a lot of good things occurred over safety,” Kimmel said.
In particular, Sullivan recalled negotiating getting equipment to remove smoke from the metal assembly plant, and Kimmel remembered getting adjustable lift stations.
“Most of us back then spent 80 percent of our life in that plant,” Kimmel said. “We made good money, but it was a lot of time away from our families. The safety part of this was the most important thing for me as a worker.”
Kimmel and Sullivan remember the frayed relationship with Local 1112. The contention started when Local 1714 formed.
“We had a lot more strength as our own union,” Sullivan said.
The work was different, the plant was different, and the fabrication plant had enough work with the stamping it did for other GM plants to be its own union, workers believed.
They stayed firm in that conviction, but over the years the relationship between the two unions started to mend.
While president from 1988 to 1994, Kimmel met with Bill Bowers, then-Local 1112 president.
“We made an agreement to work hand in hand,” Kimmel said. “I had seen the friction going on between the locals. I wanted to build a relationship.”
Through the years, the work changed as the industry changed. Robotics now do what a human worker did in earlier years. Much of the work the fabrication plant did for other assembly plants went away, and with it jobs. In 2010, Local 1714 negotiated for the body shop to be moved to the fabrication plant.
“That saved the fab plant,” Sullivan said.
After the 1112/1714 merger announcement, Kimmel reflected on what was accomplished through the years.
“It’s disappointing to me, but I could see it coming because of the complex changes,” Kimmel said. “The one good thing is you are still represented by the UAW.”
The retirees plan to preserve the history of UAW Local 1714. They continue to meet with active members to encourage them.
“In the fabrication plant, there’s a lot of people that wanted to keep their own identity and contract, and the leaders end up losing their leadership positions in this [merger],” Sullivan said. “It was a difficult thing for them to do, but they did it because it was the only way to save the plant.”
Morales, a second-generation autoworker, will be the last sitting president of 1714.
It’s a sad reality for a guy who has worked in the fabrication plant since 1995, been in union leadership since 2009, and served as president of the union since 2013.
Like so many other local autoworkers and UAW members, Morales often sports the UAW Local 1714 logo.
He’s proud of UAW Local 1714 – and the entire GM Lordstown complex – for its focus on building a quality car in the Chevrolet Cruze.
The role of president is demanding, and he doesn’t take it lightly.
“To be elected is an honor and privilege,” Morales said. “Knowing they [the membership] had the confidence in you has kept it satisfying.”
When Morales was first elected president, he knew how important it was to have a good relationship with UAW Local 1112 President Glenn Johnson. Morales and Johnson grew to become friends when they were both vice presidents of their respective unions.
“The two of us didn’t have personal agendas,” said Johnson, who’s been 1112’s president since 2012. “It was more about what was good for our members and what was going to move us forward and make sure we preserve as many jobs as possible. We found out our vision and our direction were in line.”
A couple of days after Morales won the election for president, Johnson invited him over for an 1112 event. A picture of the two was snapped and put into the Tuesday Times, a UAW/GM paper.
When Bob Parcell, the late GM Lordstown plant manager, saw the picture he said: “I see that the Great Wall of China has fallen,” Morales said.
“We knew the importance of doing things together,” Morales said. “As we move forward, we understand for us to survive, we have to as a complex; it wasn’t going to be fabrication plant versus car plant.”
During their presidential terms, the two have been through contract negotiations, the launch of the next-generation Chevrolet Cruze and dealt with slowing sales of the Cruze, which led to the loss of the third shift.
Now with their leadership teams, they are making their way through the union merger.
It was a Tuesday morning in July this year when the word “merger” came up.
“The initial reaction was shock,” Morales said. “Everyone in the room was shocked.”
The international union’s leadership came into the conference room in Detroit and explained the news they had for local union leaders.
“They announced it with the understanding that this was necessary to keep us in the position to keep us building cars in Lordstown and be competitive,” Morales said. “It was making us more competitive and profitable as a complex. This is the only plant with two unions.”
The first thing that came to Morales’ mind was his members, retired and active, and their pride.
Morales and other union leaders had hoped another option would be put on the table.
A ratification vote by the membership for the merger wasn’t necessary because it did not involve changes to wages and benefits, only changes to the work practice. It was simply a merger.
“It was the right thing to do,” Johnson said of the merger. “It protected our members and gave them the opportunity to continue to come to work.”
On a Friday in September, the merger was officially announced to members of both unions. It also was announced that GM made the commitment of building the Cruze at Lordstown for as long as it was built in North America. Now, union leaders are working to combine the memberships by seniority and to combine the local agreements.
“Every day we have to pull back a layer to see what needs to be done,” Johnson said. “Ultimately, it’s about taking care of people.”
The merger needs to be completed within 120 days of Oct. 2.
Morales’ role will be to help in the transition. The Local 1714 Retirees’ Chapter will continue to operate out of the union hall.
As far as production goes, the Lordstown complex will continue to produce the Cruze, its popular compact car, with its 3,000 employees.
Tom Wickham, manager of North American Manufacturing and Labor Communications at General Motors, said GM does not comment on future product development at manufacturing plants.
“We knew as leadership if it [the merger] gave us or placed us in a position to be more competitive and support our families and communities and property values, we were going to do what we knew was right to do,” Morales said.
“We need to position ourselves for future product. Whether it’s all electric or not, they are still going to have to build cars.”