Building community the union way

How do you fight diabetes by kissing a pig? Midge Collette, the president of Amalgamated United Auto Workers Local 292 in Kokomo, Ind., knows. After the members of her union, who build auto parts at the Delphi Delco plant, raised over $7,000 for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) last February, she was awarded the honor of kissing Mr. Wiggles, a large pot-bellied beast used by the ADA for the purpose.

Aside from improving their wages and conditions as a collective bargaining unit, workers in the UAW find ways to improve their neighborhoods and strengthen their class through community service.

UAW locals all over the Midwest and upper South have raised money for Toys for Tots, veterans, homeless programs, food banks, clothing drives, and associations that fight diseases. When Peterbilt workers in Madison, Tenn., members of UAW Local 1832, were locked out by their employers, Local 737 members in nearby Nashville raised $6,000 and donated hundreds of items such as clothes and toys to make sure their brothers and sisters enjoyed Christmas. Local 737 also formed the Rescue Squad to help the local police hunt for missing persons.

These Ford glass plant workers also regularly donate money, time and household items to single mothers recovering from substance abuse. Up north, workers from Toledo, Ohio’s GM power train plant, Local 14, raised $9,000 recently to help homeless and battered women and to provide assistance to needy veterans.

Just across the border near Adrian, Mich., Local 2031 members at GM’s Delphi parts plant supported local veterans at Veterans Committee fundraisers last December. The events’ proceeds bought Christmas gifts and necessities for veterans hospitalized at the Battle Creek Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Retiree members of Local 685 in Indiana raised over $1,000 to help provide transportation service for veterans of World War II and the Korean War to local VA hospitals.

At a time when the Bush administration is cutting deeply into VA healthcare budgets, these special services provided some relief. Further north, workers at American Axle in Three Rivers, Mich., members of Local 2093, raffled off a wooden playhouse they built for $2,300. This money was donated to Habitat for Humanity.

If you aren’t a union member or watch “The Sopranos” too much, you might have the mistaken impression that union members are corrupt, selfish or uninterested in giving back to their communities. This is a phony image the corporations and the right love to push in order to hide their own corruption and greed.

The author can be reached at jwendland@politicalaffairs.net