Your Tax Break Look Now?”
UAW Region 8’s annual Leadership Conference, April 13th - 15th 2004 at Daytona Beach, Florida focused on mobilizing union power in the upcoming November elections. The union movement’s very survival is under attack. If union members educated ourselves about the issues and voted, we could restore our rights to decent jobs, fair pay, healthcare, and retirement. We could create a better employment future for our children.
The 2004 Leadership Conference kicked off with opening introductions of delegates by Assistant Director Donny Bevis. A special welcome was given to our newly organized brothers and sisters from the Freightliner assembly facility in Cleveland, North Carolina, Local 5286, as well as delegates from Local 1981, The National Writers Union.
“How does your tax break look now?” asked Region 8 Director Gary Casteel in his opening remarks. Casteel highlighted the many ways that middle class workers are losing ground—from job loss and outsourcing, pressure of concessions at the bargaining table, dropping union membership, underemployment, to reduced funding for veterans and rising healthcare costs. Casteel outlined his vision for the future of Region 8. He also stressed the important responsibilities that we as union leaders have, and how we must be ready to answer the call for the challenges that we face ahead this election year.
UAW Education Representative Joe Rypkowski presented the Worker-To-Worker program, with information and tips on how our local union leaders can successfully implement it in the workplace. International Representative Mary Rouleau followed with a discussion about the top issues on Capitol Hill that will impact working families. Tuesday’s conference wrapped up with a report from the Region 8 Retirees Committee. The evening reception reunited delegates with familiar faces and an opportunity to meet some new ones.
The second day of the conference opened with a presentation on Union Security agreements from Jay Whitman of the UAW’s Legal Department. Union Leaders with questions regarding Beck or religious objectors should contact Mr. Whitman at the Legal Department.
During the next presentation, the delegates viewed a powerful documentary showing the brutal force that was used in Miami, Florida against demonstrators opposed to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). It was hard to believe that in the year 2004 our government would use riot police to physically silence the voice of its citizens. People from all walks of life, including union members, college students, and seniors were met with tear gas, clubs, and rubber bullets.
Anita Bonney, Fran Manzella and Joe Rypkowski conducted three workshops. The topics included getting labor’s views out in the media, the state of our economy, and key issues in the 2004 election year.
The final day of the event began with an excellent speech from former Alabama Senate candidate Dr. Susan Parker titled, “God, Guns and Gays—Why Democrats Aren’t Winning in the South.” Parker talked about the wedge issues that the Republican Party uses to distract voters from economic issues and divide the country through distorted facts. She urged union members to “educate yourself about the issues.” She also suggested we can overcome the emotional reactions that divide union members. “Come to your sisters and brothers with love,” said Parker.
Ron Hughes, Director of the UAW Civil Rights Department, gave a very honest and sincere look at the way that the color of a person’s skin, their ethnic background, or gender can influence how we treat others in society and in the workplace. How we deal with these issues today will affect our country for generations to come.
Next was the Region CAP report by CAP Coordinator Roy Thomas. The Conference ended with the Region 8 Organizing Report read by International Representative Dave Bortz. Region 8 organized more workers this year than the rest of the UAW regions combined. Bortz highlighted the successes with neutrality agreements that have lead to card check victories at Dana, Freightliner, and others.
After the conference concluded, the Region 8 Technical, Office, and Professional Division held its council meeting and elected new officers. Congratulations to new Chair, Seth Eisenberg, Vice-Chair, Teresa Martin, and Recording Secretary, Gerald Saunders. The evening ended with a banquet for the delegates, guests, and UAW staff.
On behalf of the delegates and their families, I would like to thank Director Casteel, Assistant Director Bevis and all of the Region 8 staff for the extremely educational and well organized event.
Ray M. Weiss and Samantha Clark
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