From the September-October 2005 issue of Union Democracy Review
Fifty-two playing cards = fearsome "Local 52"
To appreciate this story, remember
that 52 cards make a deck (except for pinochle's 48.) From that obscure
fact arises an imaginary Local 52...
A group of members of the International Chemical Workers
Union at the Colgate-Palmolive plant in Jeffersonville, IN, writes that,
"Unhappy with our Local's officers..., Over the years, we have banded
together informally to lobby for reform." They are represented by
To ridicule them, the incumbent officers derisively
dismissed them as the "Local 52 members," implying, not too
subtly, that they were more interested in playing cards than in unionism.
But the reformers were not bothered by this effort to derogate their activities.
They defiantly assumed the name bestowed upon them; from then on they
called their reform caucus "Local Fifty-Two." They popularized
their adopted caucus name on their new website and emblazoned it proudly
on their T-shirts.
On September 2 came this threatening letter from Robert
W. Lowery, who identifies himself as the assistant General Counsel for
the UFCW as well as counsel for the Chemical Workers.
"This letter is written to make you aware that
the use of the word Local before a number is an effort to convey to
individuals that you, or the "Local", have some bargaining
"This representation is clearly contrary to
the National Labor Relations Act, as well as to your obligations under
the International Constitution and the Local 15C Bylaws.... Accordingly
you are hereby given notice that you should immediately cease and desist
from any conduct, activity, promotional effort or representation which
could be construed as there being an existing bargaining unit at Colgate
other than the...recognized Local of the United Food and Commercial
Apart from its content, this message is significant
for its origin. The Chemical Workers and its Local 15C are affiliates
of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The lawyer-author writes,
not as the representative of the local, but as assistant general counsel
for the UFCWU. So this message comes from way up high. The UFCWU is part
of the Change to Win coalition which stakes a claim as a great reform
movement. Obviously, one thing that it does not propose to reform or to
change is the prevailing bureaucratic mood that infects wide sections
of the labor movement.
In a letter addressed to Larry Gregoire, Chemical
Workers international president, who had mailed a similar letter, Ryan
Compton replies for the Local Fifty-Two reformers:
His group, he writes,
"has never claimed to be, and has no intention
of becoming a 'labor organization' ... i.e. union that might seek to
be recognized as a bargaining representative of any employees whether
at Colgate-Palmolive, Boeing, GM, Coca Cola or any other workplace...
The Local Fifty-Two group does not proclaim to be affiliated with the
ICWU, the UCW, IAM, UAW, Teamsters, or any other labor organization...Indeed,
on our new website, we make it very clear...that [it] is not an official
union website. While you also purport to assure me of my LMRDA rights
of free speech, and assembly, the thrust of your letter is a thinly
veiled attempt to infringe those rights. Further, the only intimidation
that has occurred among members of Local 15C is the not-so-veiled threats
communicated by you and Mr. Lowrey...The best course of action would
be ...for the leadership of the ICWU to accept the fact that its members
are entitled to assemble freely, even in dissident factions, to call
themselves whatever they want, and to criticize their officers' stewardship
of our Union..."
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