Local 848 Made National Union History
When Carroll Butler became President and B.J. Meeks became Chairman in early 1984, the union was facing a dire challenge to its proud existence. The Pentagon had encouraged all military contractors to cut their labor costs. Worse, there was a national trend of "takeaway" contracts that was hitting every industry. At least one union, the air traffic controllers, had been totally destroyed by the policies and orders of President Ronald Reagan. The largest aerospace local in the UAW had tried striking but was defeated by the McDonnell Douglas Corporation in California.
LTV took a hard line in negotiations. They demanded major cuts, the elimination of Cost of Living Allowances (COLA), and a two-tier wage system that would have split the workforce in two. When the membership rejected their "offer", LTV implemented it anyway. At the same time, they cut off dues checkoff in an attempt to starve the union into submission.
After 40 years of relative labor peace in America, there were few union leaders capable of standing up to the employers' onslaught. But President Butler and Chairman Meeks agreed with the Assistant Director of Region 5, Jerry Tucker, that an innovative fightback strategy might work at LTV.
They made arrangements to collect dues by hand. Solidarity rallies, union songs, fund raising activities, and brash leaflets became regular union activities. The membership was asked to "work to rule". They would not go on strike, although the company was insisting that they try it, nor would they lie down for what the company had imposed.
Part of the strategy was to stop working overtime, even though LTV felt that they had the right to force anyone to work overtime on almost any work schedule. When a few members were fired for standing up against the overtime demands, there were large walkouts. Eventually, 65 Local 848 members were fired. Undismayed, the "victims" renamed themselves "victors" and went to work as a special solidarity committee to carry out the union's strategy.
After a 15 month fight, the Butler-Meeks-Tucker team overcame the company's takebacks and won the best contract in the aerospace industry. The 65 "Victors," formed a line on July 5, with Meeks at the front, and marched back into the plant to work. They also picked up checks covering all but 3 months of the back pay since their firings.
Acclaim for the local spread beyond the UAW and was written up in union publications nationally. A "New Directions" movement was launched to try to get the entire UAW to adopt fightback methods. The tactics that our local pioneered in 1984-85 were copied all over America.