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History

From THE FIGHTING MACHINISTS, A CENTURY OF STRUGGLE
by Robert G. Rodden

Donnybrook at McDonnell

While the campaign to put Humphrey in the White House was absorbing the IAM's attention nationally, a long simmering struggle was coming to a head at the huge McDonnell Douglas complex in St. Louis. The roots of this situation grew out of the vastly changed relationship between District 9 and Local Lodge 837. When originally chartered during World War II, Lodge 837's fifty-four members were employed by a subcontractor producing parts for a Curtiss-Wright cargo plane. After the war the plant was taken over by an engineering team from Glenn L. Martin headed by James S. McDonnell. As McDonnell's little company grew and prospered in the design and production of aircraft for the U. S. Navy, Lodge 837 grew and prospered with it. By the mid 1960's McDonnell (later merged with Douglas Aircraft Corporation of California), was the primary producer of the F-4 Phantom jet, the military's favored aircraft in Vietnam. And Lodge 837, with more than 20,000 members, was almost as large as all the rest of District 9 put together. For many years Lodge 837's members, like others in the St. Louis area, were served by business representatives elected by the total membership of the district. Most of the people of McDonnell had no complaints about wages or working conditions--considered good for St. Louis and comparable to the rest of the aerospace industry--but as the membership continued to grow, local autonomy inevitably emerged as a political issue in local lodge elections.

In the beginning the issue centered on the right of Lodge 837 members to elect their own business representatives independently of the rest of the district. But as time went on demands developed for complete separation and establishment of a new district patterned on those at Boeing, Lockheed and other aerospace giants. Though this demand for autonomy was strong it was by no means unanimous. A significant number of skilled journeymen, having trained in District 9 shops, remained loyal to the organization built by Elmer Walker, Lloyd Weber and Larry Connors over at least three decades. While not surprising that a lodge as large as 837 would seek more control of its own affairs neither was it strange that District 9's leadership would resist such a traumatic reduction in their membership, per capita and political influence.

Mounting frustration over the District's inability to assign more business representatives to handle a growing backlog of grievances eventually spilled over into a wildcat strike in November, 1965. Soon thereafter, a small group of stewards contacted a lawyer with Teamster connections for advice in developing a challenge to District 9's leadership.

This was the beginning of an internal struggle that kept Local 837 and District 9 in an uproar for the next three years. Originally, the stated objective was a new set of business representatives for District 9. But, gradually the goal became repudiation of the IAM and its replacement as the certified bargaining agent for McDonnell employees by an "independent" union calling itself the Technical Employees of Aerospace Manufacturers (TEAM). From the first meeting with the Teamster lawyer to the final NLRB vote three years later , TEAM, though claiming to have no connection with the Teamster hierarchy, received direction and financing from sources close to or identified with the IBT. Continuously handbilling the plants and union meetings with leaflets and newsletters, TEAM partisans gradually gained control of most lodge offices, including the editorship of the column traditionally reserved for Local 837 news in the St. Louis Labor Tribune.

Receiving reports that IAM supporters were being hooted down and even physically threatened by a noisy clique of TEAM partisans at monthly lodge meetings, Siemiller imposed supervision, direction and control. This was followed by suspension shortly after a Grand Lodge auditor and several GLR's were forced to barricade themselves in the lodge offices for a weekend  round-the-clock vigil to keep Lodge 837's books and accounts out of the hands of renegade officers intending to shift more than $80,000 in lodge funds to TEAM control.

Though the per capital increase approved by the January 1966 referendum made it possible for District 9 to assign more business representatives to Lodge 837, discord continued to fester throughout the next year. By January 1967, the conflict between TEAM partisans and IAM loyalists threatened to tear the local apart. With the situation deteriorating rapidly District 9's leadership came to  the reluctant conclusion that only drastic action could save the unit. With their agreement the Executive Council gave Lodge 837's membership the option of voting for a separate and autonomous aeronautical industrial district. This proposal was approved with cheers at a mass meeting of the membership and a new district of four lodges was quickly established. Having achieved their original goal--independence from District 9 and separate election of their own business representatives--the leaders of the TEAM pressed ahead with their campaign for decertification and by the early fall of 1968 had enough cards to demand a representation election.

With such a significant unit at risk, the Grand Lodge rushed in a crack troop of top GLR's to take charge of the situation. An experienced editor, assigned by the Machinist to coordinate public relations, immediately kicked off the counterattack by setting up a district newspaper to keep members better informed. In the campaign that followed practically every known form of advertising and public relations was used to present a positive image of the IAM. GLR's began passing out handbills at plant gates each morning making house calls each night. A telephone hotline was installed with messages changed daily to keep members posted on late-breaking developments. Full-page ads were placed in the city's dailies and radio spots were aired over local stations during peak time. Roads leading to plant gates in Hazelwood were lined with billboards bearing IAM messages. Workers commuting by bus read overhead placards extolling the steady and substantial long-term gains which IAM bargaining had produced for members of Lodge 837. The cars of IAM supporters were bedecked with pro-IAM bumper stickers.

At the last moment, the UAW filed for a place on the ballot. UAW President Walter Reuther had recently pulled his members out of the AFL-CIO, citing philosophic differences with George Meany, and had promptly forged an unholy Alliance for Labor Action (ALA) with the Teamsters. For years, the UAW had lusted for the IAM's unit at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis, but IAM representatives working on this campaign were convinced the UAW, with no realistic hope of winning the unit, intervened solely to help the Teamsters by splintering off support that would normally go to the IAM.

Due to the UAW's interference, three elections had to be held before the issue was finally settled. The UAW and "no-union" were easily eliminated on the first ballot. When a run-off was conducted the result was almost to incredible for belief. With more than 15,000 votes counted, the IAM led by one vote with two ballots challenged. The NLRB threw out one of the challenges but decided to sit on the other in order to force both sides to agree to try for a more convincing result. When a third election was scheduled the campaign became even more intense. The dead heat in the second election emphasized the need to get every possible supporter to the polls for the third balloting. Some members who had been content to do nothing more than cast their own vote began to actively electioneer with their shop mates.

Though high feelings sometimes spilled over into the plant and parking lots, violence and dirty tricks were fortunately limited to an occasional fist fight or sugared gas tank. Originally coming out of Lodge 837, and serving as the first business representative elected from that lodge, Midwest Territory GVP Gene Glover knew McDonnell Douglas workers would react negatively to hooliganizm.

This was proven a few days before the third election when an officer of one of the newly established local lodges decided to stop for a Friday night beer at a bar known to be a TEAM hangout. Though loyal to the IAM, he apparently prided himself on maintaining cordial relations with all parties. That night his "friends" from TEAM plied him with drinks until they got him into a T-shirt emblazoned with one of their slogans. While snapping pictures of him modeling the T-shirt they persuaded him to sign a statement supporting TEAM's efforts to supplant the IAM as bargaining agent for McDonnell Douglas workers. Shortly thereafter an IAM staffer got a phone call from a friendly tipster in a local print shop. The TEAM forces were preparing a handbill, to be passed out just before the election, bearing a picture of an IAM lodge officer in a TEAM T-shirt singing his name to a statement urging support of TEAM.

Receiving news of this turn of events, GVP Glover took the next plane out of Chicago and called an emergency staff meeting. Some of the BR's and GLR's angrily suggested a course of action calculated to raise doubts about the man's credibility and character. Coolly studying the individual's obviously befuddled expression in the picture, as well as the messy signature, Glover dispatched the chief lieutenant in the campaign, GLR Jim Malott to find out what the man himself had to say in the cold, clear light of the "morning after." At the man's home Malott learned he was ridden with remorse and ready to set the record straight.

Armed with first hand testimony as to the true facts in the case IAM handbillers were able to deflect the potential damage of this last minute "dirty trick" by TEAM partisans. In fact IAM reps close to the campaign believe this incident created a backlash that set off a last-moment surge of support for the IAM.

In the final days before the third and last ballot, both sides scraped and strained to get every possible vote to the polls. The IAM leased buses to go out to little towns sixty and seventy miles from the plant to bring known IAM supporters to the polls. The final result, though still close, was conclusive. With over 18,000 votes tallied, the IAM saved its certification by 409 votes.

The dust of the battle for representation rights barely settled before 18,000 IAM members at McDonnell Douglas were on the picket line fighting for a new contract. Apparently believing it could exploit the recent split in union ranks, the company immediately tried to launch a back-to-work movement. A massive campaign of radio, television and newspaper advertising promised instant pay raises and other benefits to workers crossing the picket line. Despite the media blitz, the Machinist reported the strike was "100 percent effective" from the start. Throughout the next six coldest weeks of the winter, thousands of District 837 members eked out Grand Lodge strike benefits with food stamps and surplus farm commodities. The members ratified the new district's first contract when the company agreed to remove the cap on a cost-of-living escalator and made a number of other improvements in vacations, medical care and pensions.

The Largest Award in Labor History

While aerospace members were forging unity on picket lines outside St. Louis, air transport members were displaying a new sense of trade union solidarity in Miami. Flying in from every part of the country, more than 6,000 IAM and Transport Workers Union members rallied at Miami International Airport to protest a lockout by National Airlines. The dispute arose when three IAM members were individually suspended in separate incidents for refusing to taxi Boeing 727 jetliners at JFK airport in New York without a third person in the cockpit. They pointed out existing work rules required such a third person to check instruments not visible from the pilot and co-pilot seats. When a thousand other IAM members walked out to protest the suspension, National retaliated with a system-wide lockout. Though ordered by the Federal district court in New York to use three-man crews when taxing at Kennedy, management reused to reinstate the locked out members, replacing them with scabs and supervisors. 

This was the genesis of a battle that spread from airstrips to courtrooms and back on two continents over the next two years. Because of restrictions in the Railway Labor Act, the IAM was barred from calling on other unions to honor its picket lines. But other ways were found to put pressure on National. At Miami Beach, a picket plane few back and forth above the beach trailing a sign warning vacationing sunbathers, "IAM skilled mechanics fired . . . Don't fly National." Boats decked out with similar messages became floating billboards sailing back and forth along the beaches. In New York, Newark, Philadelphia and other National destinations, the lockout was publicized by IAM pickets and motorcades. At the same time a battery of IAM attorneys pressed cases simultaneously against both the airline and the National Mediation Board charging violations of federal law. Grand Lodge launched a union-wide drive for a special "lockout fund," to supplement victimization benefits paid out of the strike fund.

The IAM piled up a string of victories in the courts. By September, almost nine months after the lockout began, the Court of Appeals in New Orleans ordered National to reinstate all the locked out IAM members, but the company delayed another five months with a series of appeals and legal maneuvers. The IAM's affiliation with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) paid off when British airline unions informed National's top brass that if they went ahead with plans to open a newly scheduled route between Miami and London their planes would not be serviced. The Financial Times of London reported National had already spent more than $1.5 million advertising its Miami-London flights and was paying $62,000 a year rent for sales offices described as ranking "among the bleakest, most miserable in England."

After more than fourteen months, the airline agreed to reinstate all the locked out employees with their seniority intact. But the court battles continued until January, 1971 when the U. S. Supreme Court finally upheld the right of 1,000 IAM members to receive "full benefits including back pay" for the entire period of the lockout. The ruling confirmed the IAM's contention that an air carrier could not arbitrarily change work rules while a new contract was being negotiated. The final settlement provided individual back pay awards ranging from $500 to nearly $10,000. The total $6 million was the largest back pay award in U. S. labor history.

Siemiller and DeMore Bow Out

Following the failure of the somewhat half-hearted effort to raise the retirement age in Chicago, Roy Siemiller joined Matt DeMore in bowing out amid a veritable cornucopia of gifts, congratulatory messages and banquet oratory. They exited just as the first ominous cracks wee beginning to appear in the facade of the prosperity of the '60's.

In a commentary written on the eve of Siemiller's retirement a nationally syndicated columnist observed that the

rough-cut, soft-spoken, ex-newsboy, ex-bowling pin boy, ex-messenger, ex-roving machinists . . . had led, in a few short years, more dramatic and significant national strikes than John Lewis and the coal diggers did in a decade . . . First Roy shut down some key defense  production plants, the five major airlines and eventually, even the railroads . . .
Having thoroughly savored his four-years in the spotlight of controversy, Siemiller was not ready for the rocking chair when he reached his sixty-fifth birthday. Barred from a second term by the IAM's constitutional age limit for Grand Lodge officers, he looked around for another outlet for his boundless energy. Within a few weeks he found it in the National Association of Business' JOB's program. Named as the AFL-CIO's liaison to this effort to help disadvantaged youngsters and long-term unemployed adults get practical on-the-job work experience, Siemiller served this cause with amazing vigor well into the 1980's.

As time for DeMore's retirement neared, he became increasingly interested in the work of the National Council of Senior Citizens (NCSC). Developing a special appreciation of the problems of elderly Americans he was instrumental in persuading the Executive Council to establish the IAM's program for older workers and retired members at Grand Lodge and in local and district lodges. After retiring, DeMore pursued his interest in the NCSC, serving as first vice president as well as coordinator of its political arm, the Concerned Seniors of Better Government. Until his death at the age of seventy-two in 1976, his booming voice, espousing the cause of America's elderly, echoed in the halls of Congress and up and down the corridors of government offices throughout Washington.


Genial Gene--From Journeyman to GST
Red Smith--A Break with Tradition
Return of the Son of Boulware

 

History


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of Siouxland Lodge 1426 IAMAW
Greg Enright