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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Op/Ed: As a Second Generation UAW benefactor, Right to Work for Less Harms Michigan's Future

I.U. News & Talk Op/Ed

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I'm a second generation benefactor of the United Auto Workers Union. The term might seem a bit foreign to some who read this post, but allow for a brief explanation. Below is part of a previous blog post I wrote on May 27, 2009, during the American Automobile Manufacturers Bailout debate.

My Father and Aunt left the south in the early 1960's along with many other former Southerners. My Daddy, graduating Valedictorian in his high school class of about 75, went on to College on a full basketball and academic scholarship. He was first person in my family to graduate from high school and college. This is a blog about how General Motors has been a part of my life for 40 years.  

Daddy graduated with honors - Cum Laude -  from College. He wanted to be a Lawyer and I think he would have made a great one too. Grandma and Grandfather worked hard but, never had the money to finance his continuing education. Then Daddy got drafted in Vietnam. Upon his return, he decided to move to Michigan were my Aunt and Grandparents had already relocated.

My Aunt was first to get her job at General Motors. She worked at the Flint Buick Plant for many years. It was a blessing for her because she had eight kids and with a limited education, she was able to support my cousins and my Grandparents.

Upon returning from the Vietnam war, Dad worked for a car wash, then a local hospital, while living with my late Grand Aunt. He heard about all of the people that were obtaining employment at General Motors and, at first was very reluctant to take a job there instead of going back to college. After he married my mother who had three children that he adopted as his own and a new family to support, he stopped his dream of law school one day and went to work at General Motors.

Then came me and the family of four became five. Dad worked on the line for the first three years making no more than $2.50 per hour. Reflecting on view pay stubs of the checks in years my Father passed on and in disbelief he worked for such a little amount of money. Yet, I had to remind myself that life was less expensive then and he could take care of a family on that wage, back then.

I wonder how Dad felt at the time. Smart as a whistle, graduating Cum Laude from college and working on the line. Yet my Father did what he needed to do to support his family. He could have done so much more but he did the right thing to support us.

Then, a opportunity came. With my Father's education, he took and passed the test for the General Motors skilled trade program. Daddy was excellent at math and he happened to be one of the first African American Toolmakers at General Motors in the early 1970's. My Father worked hard to finish the difficult program over two years while working on the line at the same time. Talk about dedication.

My Aunt continued to work for Buick and support her family. Everything was not smooth with such a large family and supporting her parents but she never had to take welfare or government assistance, thanks to General Motors and a decent unionized job. She soon brought a home and raised her kids.

Daddy was so PROUD of his trade. He used to say, I make more money as a Toolmaker than he would as possibly made as lawyer. Over the years, with cost of living pay increases and the UAW negotiating fair wages and benefits, Daddy made upon retirement about $32.00 an hour. Not bad for a non-lawyer, Valedictorian and college graduate.

He obtained teaching certificate while in college, and always spoke about after retirement going to teach school but he did not get the opportunity. My Father was PROUDEST of his name being on the wall at the U.S. Department of Labor as a Skilled Tradesman, and frequency discussed this honor with our family

Both my Aunt and my Daddy were able to achieve different dreams by being a employee at General Motors and United Auto Worker Unionized employees. They worked 40 and many times 60 hours a week to providing for their respective families and earning benefits along the way for a comfortable retirement. Whenever I hear of people say General Motors workers are lazy and undeserving, I immediately become upset because these "folks" do not know the backstory of many of these workers....

These are two stories and they're many others soon to be told. It amazes me everyday how we as Americans are so short-sighted and do not look at the long-termed impact, until it is in front of our faces.

Thursday, December 6th was a day huge part of my heart that misses my Dad daily, was not alive to witness. It was the day that elected Republican officials in Michigan took an axe to labor rights in this state by ramming though 'Right to Work for Less' Legislation, along with the 'flip-flop' in stance of Governor Rick Snyder (R), who claimed for nearly two and half years he would not sign this type of legislation, if it was to arrive at his desk.

As a second generation United Auto Worker benefactor, I never worked for General Motors. The income my Father made at the plant helped me become the first member of my family to receive a Bachelor's degree. Today, remembering my Father's words, "Education is something no one can take away from you", September 2013 I'll receive my Masters of Business Administration degree. Yet, now I wonder reflecting on actions taken in our Michigan House and Senate this week, were my Father's words true.

Addition to the 'Right To Work for Less' legislation, Republicans in Michigan's Legislature drafted bills in the past couple of weeks, directly focused on the total privatization of public education in this state.

Instead of looking forward to decent employment opportunities in this state -unionized or not- with fair wages and benefits; along with an free public educational system focused on teaching our Michigan children the academic rigor required to pursue undergraduate degree, skilled or vocational trade, it appears Michigan's GOP focus is on eliminating mobility into middle class society in this state.

On Tuesday, December 11th, hundreds for thousands of Michiganders who believe unions and workers have an inherent right to co-exist, will march up Michigan Avenue until reaching the State Capitol Building. Will you join them? These workers will not only march from themselves but for others who have fought and in some cases died for rights for fair wages, benefits and working conditions. Will you march with them?

Not all of the marchers will be a part of a organized union but will stand together in solidarity in belief that unions can co-exist in this state. Will you walk hand and hand in unison? Children will join their parents, teachers, caregivers and more to have an opportunity to raise their future children and grandchildren in this state by being able to earn an adequate income. Will you stay at home?  

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