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From the July-August 2005 issue of Union Democracy Review #157

Action in the Operating Engineers: reformers campaign in Locals 18 and 66

In Ohio Operating Engineers Local 18

In Local 18, Operating Engineers International Union, Patricia Kohl is running for local president and for the executive board of the local's District 6. Paul Gonter is running for local financial secretary, both as insurgents challenging a long-entrenched administration. They are not mere token candidates; they are running hard-hitting campaigns. And that's not an easy thing to do in this 14,000-member local spread out over 89 counties in Ohio. It is venturesome; some say, courageous. Operating Engineers are the workers who run those huge bulldozer, cranes, backhoes, and pile drivers you see out on the roads.

Back in 1984, Stephen W. Gard, a law professor who represented earlier insurgents, testified before the Senate Labor Committee that there had been a ten-year record of illegal elections and blacklisting, intimidation, and beatings of those who dared to oppose the regime in Local 18. [See UDR Nos. 41-43]

Paul Ginley, a longtime, experienced operating engineer who seems to know what it's all about, wrote that six once-independent locals had been merged into the single Local 18. Members have to make round trips of 200-300 miles to attend the two membership meetings a year, so that only about 200 make it; and, of these, some 65 are officers and paid staffers; the local executive board meets four times a year. He wrote in 2002 that the current local administration is the end product of an unbroken 62 years of domination. If you read what he writes and what Kohl and Gonter stress in their platforms, you would have to conclude that things have not changed very much since Professor Gard addressed the Senate Committee.

Business agents are now appointed. Gonter calls for their election by the membership. He proposes to open the pages of the union's publication, the Buckeye Engineer, to comments by the members and "responsible constructive criticism of officers and policy."

On her web site (www.local18membersvoice.com) and in handbills Kohl offers a program of democracy and fair play in job referrals. The union, she writes, "should be thoroughly democratic in its own internal life." The union should comply with the provisions of the LMRDA and "must exceed them." "Most of us have been subjected to or, at least been afraid of being blacklisted, blackballed, or other retaliation." To drive home her point, she reprints several pages from AUD's Democratic Rights for Union Members.

In April, Kohl writes, she was fired after working for 5 years on the union's apprenticeship program. "I could have kept my $78,325 a year job ...by just keeping my mouth shut. I just couldn't do it."

Reform campaign in Operating Engineers Local 66

Reformers in Operating Engineers Local 66 are fighting to get elected to local office this month. A formidable undertaking since the 7,000 member local is spread over 33 counties in Pennsylvania and three in Ohio. Reformers on the Beasley-Hay Team have been actively campaigning since early March and have, in the last two months alone, put over 18,000 miles on a single vehicle and spoken to 1,400 members face to face.

Joe Beasley (candidate for Chief Executive Officer-Business Manager) identifies the key issue in Local 66 as representation. Another candidate (who prefers to remain anonymous) concurred and said, "...you don't dare to try to enforce the contract even if you are in the right." The gripe is with the business agents, "it has got to the point where agents come in [to investigate a member's grievance] and the first thing the agent does is talk to the boss." While representation is the number one issue for members there are financial concerns too. In 2002 the union leadership proposed a building fund to either build or buy a much needed new space to house the union. The membership approved the proposal and began paying into the fund. Two years later, Beasley (who was then Recording Corresponding Secretary) says he discovered that the union leadership was using the building fund to pay for general overhead. One member says this building fund plan has turned into nothing more than an unauthorized dues increase; he reports that when Joe Beasley's father was Business Manager (a position he held for twenty years) the union was much more frugal; retirement parties used to be simple affairs serving only sandwiches. "Now they are held at country clubs." Beasley and his team are concerned about the rising salaries of the top officers in the union. He reports that in the last 4 years they have received a 40% increase while union members' income has risen approximately 3% per year.

There are 24 positions to be filled and the Beasley-Hay team is running an almost full slate. Beasley reports that they lost some of their candidates due to restrictive eligibility requirements because candidates were one or two days late in dues payments.

The challenges in this campaign are huge. Beasley says that only 3% of membership attends union meetings and that, because more than 70% of members have steady work, they are not typically interested in the union. In addition, the incumbents have mounted an aggressive retaliation campaign against the reformers. Beasley no longer gets regular work, and the union has filed charges against him for posting minutes from the membership meetings on his website www.votebeasleyhay.com.

Ballots, mailed on August 5, are due back at the union office by August 29. At this stage of the campaign the insurgents are engaged in an aggressive telephone push to encourage members to return their completed ballots. Beasley is quietly confident, "We have presented our issues a lot clearer [than the incumbents]. They have not taken a position on a single issue and not put out a platform. If they are going to do anything they have to throw mud."

AUD letters and calls for comment to the current President and Business Manager of Local 66 were not returned.

Other articles on the IUOE:
Confronting corruption charges in Operating Engineers Local 3 (11/06-12/06
In the Operating Engineers (IUOE)(11/05-12/05)
Reform breakthrough in Ohio Operating Engineers Local 18(9/05-10/05)
Action in Operating Engineers locals 18 and 66(7/05-8/05)
New voices at AUD construction trades conference (1/03-2/03)
"Women's Project launches Operation Punch List" (10/00-11/00)

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