|Local 2169 - Fifteen Years!
This article was written by Brother Larry DíArgis in 1995 and published in our local newsletter.
Fifteen years ago on May 21, this Local was certified by the Manitoba Labour Relations Board. Over that period, many members who did not work here at the time have asked me about the organizing drive and why the workers chose to endure the struggle and the ensuing strike for representation. I usually give a quick overview and many find it a fascinating stow which leads to more questions. I canít speak for everyone who was involved, but I do know how it affected me personally and those close to me.
In the late 1970ís Boeing Winnipeg underwent rapid growth. Many new people were hired, management and supervisory positions were being appointed in near record numbers and we started an almost balanced two shift operation. The plant became very crowded even with phase two of the plant built Health and safety, job training; as well as the value of an employee seemed to go right out the window. The emphasis on production grew so great it became a very tiring and stressful place to work. We all talked about how it was affecting us over a few suds at the local bar and the house parties we would go to alter our shift. Many felt the overtime was killing their family and social life. We all agreed that many people had their employment an-justly terminated for doing no more than not being pals with their supervisor. It seemed if you had an original idea or suggestion in your head that management didnít agree with, you were labeled a troublemaker and your pink slip would show up down the road. Many good workers were hoofed out the door on trumped up records of poor production and attendance.
Back then there were the two Annual individual performance assessments. These assessments were carried out by your Supervisor or Manager and all facets of your job performance were rated. Now some people think this is a fair and accurate way to rate peopleís job performance and establish their earnings, but it isnít. Over the first ten years at Boeing there was nothing but constant bitching about it. People that got terrific ratings and raises and loved the system, soon changed their minds when they ended up with a new Manager who didnít like them. For this little charade you were called into the office and told of your shortcomings and what they wanted you to do to correct your behavior. The sad thing about this is that your annual wage increase was governed by how well you did in the assessment. if you were not a likable person you could end up with a $7.00 a week pay increase no matter how hard you worked. On the other side of the coin, if you were a real good Joe in managementís eyes, a $26.00 or $28.00 a week increase could be bad. It didnít matter if you couldnít even comb your hair in the morning as long as the Boss liked you. Management was the King and the worker was there to do what he was told, period.
Even through all of this I didnít feel threatened. I got my work done, received reasonable wage increases and always had something on the Boss in case he tried to give me the short end of the stick. In other words, if they tried to give me the shoe some of them would be going too! It wasnít the greatest relationship to have with an employer, but I had become used to it.
We talked about unions and what they might be able to do for us at Boeing, but many people were afraid that if it didnít work out they would end up on the street.
Boeing traditionally paid about $5.00 per hour less than unionized workplaces in the Winnipeg area but most felt at least it was a job. In the Fall of 1980 talk of forming Union was going through the plant ft was lead by Harold Dyck a worker in the Trim department.
In late October of 1980 the company called an all employee meeting in the cafeteria. They announced that orders were being cut back and there was the possibility of some lay offs. The next week they laid off 35 workers. A lay off at that time was really a termination of your employment; the company was under no obligation to recall you. When you looked around the plant at who they laid off, it didnít make any sense from a production point of view. This later became evident in a conversation with a Manager, who thought the workers seeing the supporters of starting a union out on the street, would strike enough fear into the rest of them to leave well enough alone. As usual, the company let a lot of people go who hadnít even heard the word union, let alone want to start one.
After working a Friday afternoon shift in December of 1980, we headed to a house party. We were all anticipating a good Christmas shutdown Holiday. After all, we had worked the five or six make-up Saturdays through the Fall to get the time off and we all needed a break. About half way through the party, a group of us could see a supervisor getting a little pushy with one of the women from lay-up. In a half drunken slur he shouted, ďIf you donít drop your laundry, you wonít have a job on Monday! At that point the music stopped, the supervisor was abruptly shown the door and we agreed this archaic, middle ages crap, mentality had to stop!
By January of 1981 the new organizing drive was in full swing, this time with an in-plant committee. It was pretty tense, at times the company did the stupidest things to abort the drive and made life in general at the plant a living hell for all of us. At the end of each day the committee would meet the U.A.W. organizer, Ken Simpson, at the old Amazon Motel on Portage Avenue. We would count and recount the cards and go over who we could visit that evening and speak to about joining. The funny thing was, the company had made it such a lousy place to work, with their Draconian management, poor working conditions, low wages and goofy policies, people were ready for a change. The actions of the company are what encouraged the workers to organize a union.
After an in-plant vote in April of 1981, the United Auto Workers Local 2169 was named as the official Bargaining Agent for Boeing Winnipeg workers. Then the company dragged out the bargaining for a first collective agreement, not wanting to recognize things like seniority etc., until the workers struck the plant on October 18, 1981. Again it was the companyís actions that forced the workers to take strike action.
It was a bitter five week strike, in cold and miserable weather. The company brought in scabs in school busses, with the windows covered in brown paper, to do the work of the strikers. At times there were forty police officers on the line to try and retain order. Many strikers were arrested, jailed and charged with various mischief related offenses.
During the strike a Provincial Election was taking place. The Winnipeg Labour Congress and the Manitoba Federation of Labour had been lobbying the New Democratic Party to put First Contract Legislation into the Manitoba Labour Relations Act, should they form the new Government. The legislation was devised to avert strikes such as ours through government intervention, should the two parties not be able to reach an agreement. The N.D.P. won the election and announced it would propose the legislation in the first session.
The day after the election, 99 members of Local 2169 received registered letters from the company stating their employment was terminated. The companyís reason was that orders were being cut and these employees were no longer needed. A union meeting was called and in an unprecedented move the strike was suspended, we all made an attempt to return to work. At the door we were turned away and told we would receive return to work instructions from the company the next day. All but the 99 terminations, they were no longer considered employees by the company and wouldnít be recalled.
The 99 members terminated were on strike at the time of the terminations and no consideration was given to seniority, many had worked at Boeing since it opened in 1971 and the Manitoba Labour Relations Board began an investigation into the matter. Board hearings began in February of 1982. Almost all of the 99 had in fact been terminated for what the company called problems on the picket line not eligible for rehire, this was proven at the hearing with the companyís own paperwork. The hearings dragged on through March of Ď82 and the union never got to present its case to the Board. The company and the Union resumed bargaining in April and an agreement was struck. The three year agreement included that all Board hearings would cease and no charges were laid. Wage increases were 11%, 10% and 10% respectively with full Seniority and Recall provisions. That included the 99 members who were laid off out of seniority, but because of Seattle recalling work packages only 33 would return. It would take until 1984 until we could all be back.
On April 12, 1982, after a five week strike and over four and a half months out of the plant, people such as myself, Ken Wardell, Chris Wallace and Lyn Palframan, along with 29 more of the 99, returned to work through the seniority provision. Management paraded us to the training room through the cafeteria and at this point we received a standing ovation from the workers having their morning coffee. The cheers of ďall right! we knew youíd be back!, Justice is Done!Ē, somehow made it all seem worthwhile. We were no longer at the mercy of management, we had a Union!