UAW kicks Cleveland Five Out of Union
In the early days of labor unions, it was not uncommon for the law to step in to help settle disputes. History is filled with stories of everyone from the private Pinkerton officers, to the local police to the National Guard getting involved.
Over the weekend, some area residents joined those dubious ranks when the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office was called to remove a group of five apparent members of a United Auto Workers local who union leaders said were trespassing.
The incident occurred Saturday afternoon during the regular monthly meeting of the UAW Local 3520. The meeting was held at the former Wayside Elementary School building on U.S. High-way 70, just outside of Statesville.
The five who were accused of trespassing are former employees of the Freightliner Plant in nearby Cleveland. One of the five, Allen Bradley, was actually arrested during the incident. “He twisted my arm behind my back and I almost dropped my camera,” Bradley said. “They kept me in the police car for 40 minutes while they tried to figure out what to do.” Bradley was eventually charged with trespassing and later released on his own promise to appear in court.
The other four left without incident after sheriff’s deputies said they too could face trespassing charges. But Bradley said it is impossible for them to have been accused of such an offense since they wereand are, to their knowledgemembers of the local in good standing. He believes they had as much right to be at the meeting as any of the other members. “The membership is highest authority in the local,” Bradley said. “We are all members with the same rights so I don’t know how we could have been trespassing any more than anyone else.”
But the names of the fivewhich have become known in union circles around the country as the Cleveland Fivewere apparently erased from the membership prior to Saturday’s meeting. “But our membership dues were paid, and we were in good standing,” said Robert Whiteside.
Whiteside said he is still the shop chair of the local. He said four of the five fired members have attended every meeting since they lost their jobs in April. “We’ve never had any problems before,” he said. “But we feel pretty certain that this was all planned ahead of time by the president.”
The four men and one womanwhich, in addition to Bradley and Whiteside, includes David Crisco, Franklin Torrence and Glenna Swinfordlost their jobs last year when, as members of the Local 3520 bargaining committee, they called for a strike after contract talks collapsed.
Top UAW officials said the April 2, 2007, strike was not endorsed by the union’s international office and more than a dozen people lost their jobs as a result of it. All but the five got their jobs back within a month of the one-day walkout.
Whiteside said the strike was the next logical step in the negotiations. “We didn’t have a contract,” he said. “And our job at that time was to negotiate one.”
As president of the Statesville Branch NAACP, Woody Woodard said workers’ right to unionize has long been tied to civil rights. He said what has happened at Freightliner is a sign that something went wrong within the local. “This is not how unions are supposed to operate,” said Woodard, who helped in getting Bradley released without a bond.
But now that the matter has reached the level of their not being welcome at monthly meetings what will the members do? “We’ve gone too far to turn back now,” Whiteside said.
Statesville.com, February 18, 2008