UAW member: 'Hard feelings' over RTW

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For 34 years, Duane Shoemaker worked for General Motors at both the Kalamazoo stamping plant and the now-closed stamping plant on 36th street in Wyoming. He was a UAW member and said the union pushed not only for better working conditions but also for top-of-the-line health benefits.

When he retired 13 years ago, he was making $27 an hour. He gave two hours a month of his pay -- around $50 -- to the UAW.

Shoemaker fears a new worker won't want to pay the union dues if right-to-work bills become law in Michigan.

"It will be a sad day for Michigan [if this passes,]" said retired UAW member Larry Palmer. "I think Michigan is gonna be in a world of hurt."  Palmer is the former treasurer of his UAW chapter.

It's possible long-time union workers will eventually work side-by-side with new employees who choose not to join the union. They'll both get the benefits the union negotiated -- but the new worker will choose not to pay dues.

"There's going to be hard feelings because this one worker is paying two hours' pay," Shoemaker told 24 Hour News 8. "A new employee comes in and he enjoys the very same benefits that I fought for for 34 years, being on two different strikes."

"How much is this employee going to have left to raise a family of two or three? It's not going to happen. And they're not going to pay the dues. They won't be able to afford it," Shoemaker added.

Shoemaker is among the UAW members -- including retirees -- who have been asked to do whatever they can to protest the right-to-work bills scheduled for a Tuesday vote. But, he said, his part-time job will keep him from the rally in Lansing.

"I am against it," said retired UAW member Ken Alksnis. "It does undermine the union and it just wants to get rid of the unions is what it does. When people go and say 'why should I go and pay union dues when I can be represented by the union,' it costs the union money to represent us."  

"Labor unions are what's behind the middle class," said retired UAW member Karl Dyksterhouse. He said a union was the reason he was able to make a decent wage and put three kids through college. He referred to those who wanted the perks of a union without paying for it 'freeloaders.'

UAW International told 24 Hour News 8 about 300 people from West Michigan plan to take buses and cars to Lansing Tuesday to make their voices heard. That's only a fraction of the possibly 10,000 protesters Michigan State Police are preparing for.

Duane Sprague is a retired UAW member who was a leader locally. He played a big role in the strike of 2007 of the 36th Street stamping plant.

"A lot of people are going to be in Lansing tomorrow -- a lot more than were last week," said Sprague. "There's going to be people rallying like they've never rallied before."

That's because union backers believe they have never faced such a threat here in Michigan before.   

"It's a giant step backwards not any step forward," Sprague said.

Sprague pointed out that it's not just UAW that right-to-work would affect: Teachers, nurses, any public or private union -- except police and fire -- would be impacted.

He also said it's not just union members who should be upset at the pending legislation.   

"Losing the right to organize and come together in good order is just nothing but the start of the demise of the working man," he said.

The UAW has encouraged current and former union members to wear red if they cannot show up to a Tuesday protest, 24 Hour News 8 was told.

At the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans -- where most of the workers are unionized -- a longtime caregiver fears right-to-work will push him and his co-workers out of jobs.

The union, Robert Hartung said, is trying to save them.

"It's a protection for us and right now the caregivers at the vet's home are fighting extremely hard and have  been doing so for over two years to keep our jobs," Hartung told 24 Hour News 8. "They could come in and reduce our pay and cut our benefits without any challenges or any fight, and with the union we have the fight behind us to save that. We've worked hard for our benefits and our wages."

Larry Palmer told 24 Hour News 8 he's worried if this goes through retirees pension and health benefits may be at risk in the future.

"They could try, [I'm] not going to say they're going to do it, but they could try," he said.

24 Hour News 8 will have complete coverage of the votes and the demonstrations in Lansing on Tuesday.

On the Net:

The Michigan Right-to-Work bills:

House Bill 4003

House Bill 4054

Senate Bill 116


24 Hour News 8's Dani Carlson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 WOOD TV. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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