DEARBORN, Mich., June 2 /PRNewswire/ -- Several thousand DTE workers/Local 223 Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) members protested out of control executive pay, profits at the expense of consumers and bad faith bargaining with 96 percent approval of a strike authorization vote at its General Membership Meeting held on June 1. Local 223 experienced its largest turnout ever for a General Membership Meeting, with 96 percent of its members voting YES to give strike authorization to Local 223 to call for a strike or other lawful job actions if necessary. The meeting was held at Laurel Manor in Livonia, Mich. The turnout was so large that Livonia Police had to direct traffic and members had to walk from parking lots surrounding the area. Local 223 is currently in negotiations with DTE Energy for its contract, which expires on June 6, 2010 for Trade, and Office, Professional and Technical members and October 10, 2010 for Gas Division members that the union represents. Negotiations between the company and union began April 7 to secure the new union contract.
While DTE is posting huge profits and giving generous salaries to its executives, the company is demanding unreasonable and painful takeaways from its workers such as huge increases in payments for healthcare, cutting or eliminating healthcare for UWUA retirees and stripping employment security for Local 223 UWUA workers.
Local 223 members heard from several speakers before casting their strike authorization vote. Marge Faville, RN, and President of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Healthcare Michigan, spoke first.
"Don't give up on your healthcare and don't give up on your retiree healthcare," said Faville. "Healthcare is not a privilege; it is a right you all deserve. Our 55,000 SEIU members statewide will stand behind you and support you!"
Next members heard from Stewart Acuff, Chief of Staff of the National Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA).
"Tony Earley's total compensation (DTE Energy Chairman and CEO) is up $2 million and the company's profits continue to go up, but they want to takeaway from all of you," said Acuff. "That just does not make sense. It is just plain damn wrong. You are carrying on a fight not just for yourself, you are carrying on a fight for the middle class."
Jim Harrison, Local 223 President UWUA, spoke to his members next.
"We were optimistic that our talks would be productive, and lead to a 'win-win' result for both our union members and the employer. We believed that because there was no reason for it to be any other way. Unlike many other industries and companies, DTE is not facing economic turmoil. DTE is posting huge profits. It only had to share its success with its union workers," said James Harrison, President, Local 223 UWUA. "Unfortunately, we were wrong. DTE Management has failed to bargain in good faith. DTE knows the sacrifices workers have been forced to make in other industries because of the difficult economic circumstances in other industries. Very simply, they see what they believe is a 'window of opportunity' to strip our members of employment and retirement security."
Mike Langford National UWUA President took the podium next. "The national union will not allow this to happen. We have fought many battles around the country and will stand by our workers," said Langford. "We won't let DTE line the pockets of executives while it empties the wallets of our workers.
Mark Gaffney, President of Michigan State AFL-CIO presented last before the vote. "One million trade unionists statewide are going to stand up beside you. We will be there one day longer than the bosses," said Gaffney. "DTE thinks because everyone else is in the barrel that you need to take concessions. On behalf of one million trade unionists, it stops here! We'll be here for you as long as it takes!"
This strike authorization vote does not automatically result in a strike. The ultimate goal of this vote is to secure good faith bargaining by DTE and a fair contract for Local 223 members to preserve the standard of living for its members.
"Local 223 UWUA members put their minds and hands to work to drive $100M in combined continuous improvement initiatives at Edison and MichCon and have contributed to DTE's $230 million in first quarter profits," said Harrison. "We deserve a fair contract, and our solidarity sends a strong message to DTE that our members will bargain, not beg, until we win a fair contract. We don't believe that we have been dealt with fairly since we began negotiations. We've been working hard to make reasonable proposals that just aren't good enough for DTE. We called this meeting to consult with our membership since it is our future and our families that will be affected by our contract. We won't be stripped from employment and retirement security."
About the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 223, AFL-CIO (www.local223uwua.org)
The Utility Workers Union of America continues to be in the forefront of the fight for a secure energy future that protects consumers, respects workers' rights and creates good paying domestic jobs. UWUA Local 223 members are safe, productive, and skilled workers. UWUA Local 223 represents 4,000 members at DTE Energy representing workers from Detroit Edison and MichCon who generate, deliver and restore power and supply gas. Local 223 is the largest union at DTE and the second largest UWUA local in the nation. Local 223 members serve as first responders in times of crisis and keep customers safe.
Local 223 members are employed around the state of Michigan and are part of 11 different units representing employees at Warren Service Center Shops; Power Generation; Office, Professional & Technical (OPT); Gas; Meter; Stores; Electrical System – Substations; Underground Lines; Nuclear Operations – Fermi 2; Motor Transportation, and Facilities Management & Services. They are employed as skilled trades, power plant operators, electric and gas field service workers, meter readers, electric and gas distribution workers, customer service representatives and clerical workers, electrical line workers, technical workers and business and office workers.
The mission of UWUA Local 223 is to provide its members with a voice in the workplace and in the larger community. UWUA's goals are to protect and improve the wages, benefits and standard of living of its members and their families, to ensure a safe and healthy workplace, to affirm the dignity and value of our members and the work they perform, and to create a more just and secure workplace and society.
SOURCE Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 223