GM Union Will Vote Again on Rejected Plan to Avert Layoffs

Times Staff Writer

Workers at the General Motors assembly plant in Van Nuys have voted to reconsider a controversial proposal to avoid layoffs that they turned down just a week ago, it was announced Friday.

But a group of older workers who oppose the plan said they will seek a court injunction to prevent another vote.

United Auto Workers Local 645 has been bitterly divided by the proposal, which would reduce the working hours of all 3,800 employees at the Van Nuys plant in order to avert the indefinite layoff of 1,900 workers.

GM says some kind of work reduction is necessary because sales of the Pontiac Firebirds and Chevrolet Camaros manufactured at the plant have declined.

Last Saturday, GM workers rejected the proposal by a margin of eight out of 2,636 votes cast. As a result, the company announced it will lay off 1,900 workers effective Monday.

But on Thursday, Local 645's leadership asked union members to consider a new ballot because of alleged voting irregularities.

According to the tally announced Friday, 1,256 workers favored another election and 590 were against it. The union has scheduled the new vote for Feb. 8.

Older workers, whose seniority entitles them to full-time work, are angry. In a union meeting Thursday, their boos and catcalls against a new vote could be heard several blocks away.

"What happens if we don't vote for it this time?" asked Tom Vesey, a 29-year veteran of the Van Nuys plant. "Will we have to vote again? Will we have to go four out of seven like the World Series?"

The union local, GM management and younger workers generally support the work-sharing proposal and see it as part of a new management-labor cooperative effort at the plant.

Seven workers filed protests asking that Saturday's vote be overturned because of alleged irregularities. They contended that the union did not have a master list of members, which would have prevented someone from voting more than once. The protesters also said that at one point, ballots were unavailable for 45 minutes, which caused some workers to leave the meeting before voting.

Joe Garcia, the union treasurer, said he had received reports that some workers' spouses were picking up ballots and voting.

But many of the older workers regard the new vote as a ploy by the union and GM to get the proposal approved. Many of the younger workers--who are in favor of the proposal because it would save their jobs--did not vote last Saturday. Because the Feb. 8 vote will be held inside the GM plant, most of the younger workers will be available to vote, union officials said.

"There will be a big difference in the number of people voting, and that difference will be in favor of the work-sharing plan," Garcia said. "I think it will pass."

Jerry Shrieves, the local's president, said he does not know what is going to happen.

"I thought I knew the last time," he said. "I really don't know."

Paul Goldener, who served as local president from 1970 to 1978, said he and other older workers will seek an injunction to block the vote. If the injunction is not granted, Goldener said, he will ask the federal government to monitor the second vote.

Goldener and other workers said they will picket in front of the regional headquarters of the UAW in Los Angeles.

"The union leadership has failed to represent its membership," he said. "We have people in office who are totally ignorant of their responsibilities."

Goldener has also filed charges with the parent UAW in Detroit against Shrieves, alleging that Shrieves struck a union member during Thursday's union meeting.

Shrieves said he had no comment and "I'm not interested in anything he (Goldener) has to say."

GM has announced it will close the Van Nuys assembly plant next week. But if workers ratify the work-sharing program, GM said, it could be implemented as soon as Feb. 15.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World