FCA Unions See Progress in Bid for Global Labor Network Recognition

Mar 28, 2017

By Ron Russell
NTC Communications

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        Detroit conference was the Network’s first in the U.S.

Participation in an international labor conference by a high-ranking Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Group executive has energized union leaders from eight countries who vowed to intensify joint efforts to win company recognition of their Global Union Network.

“It’s vitally important that we work together across national borders to bring our issues to the table, and not allow multi-national corporations to pit one union against another when we negotiate fair contracts for workers,” said Garry Bernath, Administrative Assistant to UAW President Dennis Williams.

Committed to evening the playing field, the FCA-CNHind Global Union Network seeks to provide all unions that represent FCA Group workers with greater clout by using model contracts to help define issues and craft language when they bargain local and national agreements.

Bernath’s call to action came at the Network’s Conference, March 14-16 at the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center in Detroit. Conducted under auspices of the IndustriALL Global Union and hosted by the UAW, the meeting attracted 25 delegates from 12 unions.

An appearance by Glenn Shagena, Head of Employee Relations, FCA – North America, marked the first time an FCA management representative has participated in the Network’s annual conference, first held in 2011.

In a Declaration issued at the end of the meeting, the Network described Shagena’s participation as “an historic accomplishment” that represents “a constructive social dialogue” between FCA and the unions.

In a presentation to delegates, Shagena delivered a comprehensive, upbeat report on the company’s dramatic progress, with support from the UAW, since it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009.

Garry Bernath from the UAW President's office.
Garry Bernath from the UAW President’s Office.

“We received a second chance at industrial life; we did not know whether we would survive,” Shagena said. “At the end of the day, our common interests were greater than our differences.”

Shagena presented an overview of FCA’s global operations, product strategy and financial condition, as well as his viewpoint on several key issues facing the auto industry.

He said FCA is hitting on all cylinders with regard to implementing its five-year business plan, unveiled in May 2014, which includes globalization of the Jeep brand. “We have been disciplined in plan execution in terms of volume growth, strengthening the balance sheet and margin expansion,” Shagena said. “We have achieved every single target through 2016 that was outlined in the plan.”

On a personal note, Shagena put it this way: “I’ve worked here for 32 years and it makes me very proud to be able to tell you that our company has never been run better than it’s run today. And we’ve never made better products we can be proud of.”

Union leaders viewed Shagena’s presence as a breakthrough that could be a turning point in the struggle to negotiate an agreement regarding the Network. They hope it will lead to management participation in future Global Union Network meetings, and eventual recognition of the alliance by FCA.

Troy Davis, top Administrative Assistant to UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, called Shagena’s presentation “a milestone” in Network efforts to conclude a Global Framework Agreement (GFA) on industrial relations with FCA Group. About half of the world’s premier automotive manufacturers have signed GFAs.

These are non-binding, broad agreements between unions and companies. They establish guidelines for company behavior on trade union rights, fair wages, health and safety and other working conditions, along with such other issues as creation of World Works Councils.

“This was huge – monumental in fact – to have FCA be a part of this conference,” Davis said. “We will continue to talk with management to build on this progress. We’ll take baby steps, and eventually we’ll get there.”

Glenn Shagena with delegates after his presentation.
       Glenn Shagena with delegates after his presentation.

Jewell, director of the UAW’s Chrysler Department, is a strong proponent of the Global Union Network and the urgent need for company recognition.

“This is the first step toward recognition, and that was the main issue on our agenda,” said Italian delegate Ferdinando Uliano, National Secretary of the FIM-CISL union in Italy.

Uliano said he was cautiously optimistic about the future. “I believe at some point in time (company recognition) will happen, but it will be a slow and drawn-out process because the company has a prejudice toward the Network. As it is, it will be hard to change that over.”

Bernath, who heads the UAW’s International Affairs Department, urged delegates from other unions to escalate their efforts to achieve the Network’s objectives.

“You can’t depend on just the UAW going to the bargaining table and making (recognition) part of our collective bargaining agreements,” he said. “Everybody in this room needs to go to the table and bring this up, and make it a global issue.”

About 300,000 workers are employed at FCA and CNH plants worldwide. CNH Industrial N.V. manufactures agricultural implements and other heavy equipment as well as commercial vehicles.

Other highlights of the conference included:

• A report by Helmut Lense, IndustriALL’s Auto and Rubber Director, that targeted current and future auto industry global sales and production trends, and advances in automotive technology. Lense also provided an update on the rapidly-changing global labor movement, including IndustriALL’s plans to establish global networks in China and Japan, as well as the developing democratic union movement in Mexico.
• Reports by union leaders about FCA operations – including products, employment levels and economic conditions – and collective bargaining issues they face in their respective countries. Besides the U.S. and Italy, delegates came from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, France, Poland and Switzerland.
• A tribute to Lense, who is nearing retirement from his IndustriAll post. “You will be missed,” the UAW’s Paul Caucci, Global Union Network Coordinator, told Lense. “We’re brothers and sisters; I see all of you like you’re my own family. This conference has made us stronger together – that’s what a union does.”

Brazilian delegate Adriano Carlesso said the conference also provided an opportunity to compare notes with delegates from other countries about effective bargaining strategies to resolve issues they have in common. Recent political, social and economic turmoil in Brazil have made life difficult for labor leaders like Carlesso.

Delegates enjoy hands-on demonstration in WCMA lab.
                   Unsafe Acts Game was a big hit with delegates.

“I’m going home more motivated to try my best to represent the workers,” said the President of Sindimovec/Campo Largo. “Together, we can do something to improve benefits and wages in Brazil. Those are our major concern in the auto industry. Profits are not shared with workers.”

After the conference adjourned, many delegates stayed over a day to tour FCA’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit and the UAW-Chrysler World Class Manufacturing Academy (WCMA) in Warren, Mich.

The whirlwind visit to the WCMA proved to be an eye-opener for the foreign visitors, all of whom already are familiar with FCA’s WCM production process. But they found the academy’s innovative approach to teaching WCM concepts to be especially engaging and effective.

Since it opened in 2012, the academy has trained or affected more than 75,000 UAW and management employees at FCA through the Warren facility, satellite academies in Mexico and Kokomo, Ind., two mobile units, online courses and plant-based training.

During a tour of the WCMA lab, the labor leaders experienced several of the hands-on learning activities that proved WCMA Lead Scott Tolmie was right when he told them, “WCM is not scary when you come here – you have fun while you learn. We do crazy things but open peoples’ minds so they don’t get stuck.”

The tour ended in a nearby classroom where the visitors met 14 Hazel Park (Mich.) high school students enrolled in the UAW-Chrysler-sponsored School-to-Work Program. It’s designed to improve their academic and life skills, build self-esteem and help prepare them to pursue future careers in the skilled trades or other manufacturing jobs.

The labor leaders were impressed by this one-of-a-kind program, and the students were equally confident and proud as they introduced themselves and exchanged information with the visitors.

Jorge Oorlynck, 28, who is from Belgium, quickly developed a special bond with the students who are overcoming family or personal adversity and turning around their lives as a result of School-to-Work.

“This experience touched my heart; I’m really happy I met these kids,” said Oorlynck, President of the ACV-CSC METEA Youth Union. “I’d like to keep in touch. And if I can do something to help them, I really want to do that.

“This is the reason you get involved in a union: to give people in need an opportunity to have a good job, a good life and fulfill their dreams.”

It was a fitting conclusion to three days of building unity that transcends national borders. Everyone felt the spirit of solidarity that permeated the classroom – no matter whether they were students from Hazel Park or union leaders who live in another country thousands of miles away.

Delegates with students from School-to-Work Program.
                                                                                                                       Delegates with students from School-to-Work Program.