Back to Basics

I just returned from the ratification vote, and it was an enlightening experience. I witnessed a high level of emotion regarding whether the proposal brought for ratification was worthy of our members or not. As part of the team that brought this proposal to the membership, I was somewhat taken aback at the response by some, but I respect the opinion of each and every member who voted. In the end, a decisive majority of our members thought the proposal was worthy of their vote and ratified the contract.

††††††††††††††† To those who are disappointed with the outcome, I encourage you to become involved in the local union-run for a position as steward, grievance committee member or even the executive board. By engaging in the inner working or day-to-day workings of our union, you will be in position to lead the next time negotiations are conducted.

††††††††††††††† A recurring theme heard during the health and safety subcommittee negotiations was that the Company did not know about the numerous issues we presented as proof of the need for the new contract language in our proposal. The union was told that Caterpillar had not heard of these instances before, or that these were isolated incidents, and were not indicative of Caterpillar as a whole. We were told these issues should have been handled at the local level. What the Company did not seem to understand, is that we tried to handle the problems at the local level, using the agreed upon procedure.

††††††††††††††† We presented pie charts of ergonomic injuries based on OSHA 300 logs, repeated OSHA citations for violations of particular standards, specific instances where workers had identified particular hazards to management that went unabated and proposals for updating hazardous chemicals exposure levels to modern standards, instead of 40 year-old science. Maybe Iím not exactly the most objective person concerning our proposals, but I thought the union made its case for the requested improvements crystal clear. However, we all know that we tend to see what we want to see. In the end, we agreed on significant improvements in the safety committee language and on the one Company proposal in the safety languageóthey want us to tell them when there is a hazard in our workplaces. Duh!

††††††††††††††† The language in 8.3 of the Safety Complaint Procedure was changed from, An employee who believes that a condition has developed which presents a significant threat to his health or safety should promptly notify his Supervisor of such condition, to Öshall promptly notify... Bringing these issues to managementís attention does not involve the team leader (he/she is not your Supervisor), it means you have to specifically tell your Supervisor of hazards you identify.

††††††††††††††† We may have gotten away from this process, in some instances, but both parties agreed to this revised language and we should do our best to uphold our end of the deal. So from now on, whenever there is a damaged sling, lifting device or bar-knob in your area, I want you to tell your Supervisor. If you are expected to lock something out and donít have the locks, training or specific lock-out procedures, tell your Supervisor. If you work on machine tools that allow you to open the doors and approach the point of operation while it is running, tell your Supervisor.If the coolant on the machine you operate is not clean and properly maintained to the correct proportions, tell your Supervisor.

††††††††††††††† Since we now have a contractual obligation to bring any and all hazards to our Supervisors attention, we can also expect our concerns to be addressed in a timely manner. If you identify a hazard and you donít think it has been addressed in what you think is an appropriate timeframe, the UAW and Caterpillar agreed on a procedure to address these concerns. Section 8.1 says, in part, Therefore, the parties agree to place renewed attention, emphasis, and effort into the use of the local safety complaint procedure. The Safety Complaint Procedure in 8.3 does not mean you submit a C/I card. The language means that if you think it has taken your Supervisor too long to address your concerns, you need to ask for, and as it says, your Supervisor shall send for your UAW Safety Representative. This is the procedure Caterpillar and the UAW agreed upon; letís use it to make our workplace safer and healthier.

††††††††††††††† As I stated previously, these negotiations have been an enlightening experience for me personally, and I hope they have been for you as well. I respect all of the people who came to the ratification meeting and cast their vote, because that is how our union makes important decisions. If you want change, get involved; come to meetings, run for steward, General Council, Executive Board or Grievance Committee positions. Remember, you are the union. We are the union.

In Solidarity,

Steve Mitchell