Transcript of Oral History Interview: Sal Ingrassia, Former President IUE District Three
Interviewed on December 14, 2005
at the Patchogue - Medford Library
Patchogue, Long Island, New York
Special Collections and University Archives
Rutgers University Libraries
Tape One, Side One
BG - Hello, this is Bob Golon, Labor Archivist for Rutgers University Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Today is December 14, 2005, and we are at the Patchogue - Medford Library in Patchogue, New York to interview Sal Ingrassia, former President of District Three of the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers, AFL-CIO. The union is commonly known as the IUE, and it is now affiliated with the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
Sal served as President of District Three from 1984 until the District was consolidated into District One of the CWA in 2003. IUE District Three encompassed all of New York State and New Jersey, as well as New England and parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware in the later years.
We are privileged to have Sal with us here today.
Prior to becoming president of District Three in 1984, Sal served as a Steward and Chief Steward, IUE Local 450 from 1953 to 1956, a Trustee and Chief Steward, Vice President and President of IUE Local 470 from 1956 through 1963, as a Staff Representative for the International Union from 1963 to 1967, as the Long Island Area Coordinator for the IUE from 1967 to 1971, as District Three Director of Organization from 1971 to 1978, as District Three Vice President from 1978 to 1980, and as District Three Secretary - Treasurer from 1980 to 1984. Sal's other positions also include Vice President of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, AFL-CIO, Vice President of the New York State AFL-CIO, Vice President of the Long Island Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, Vice President of the CWA Executive Board, Vice President of the IUE AFL-CIO on the International Executive Board, Sal was a member of the New Jersey Governor's Committee on Job Retention, he was the Chairman of the IUE-CWA Pension Fund, was a member of the Board of Directors of Group Health Incorporated, was a member of the New York Governor's Task Force on Plant Closings, and also has been President of the Dix Hills Village Association, the Admiralty Homeowners Association, and the Summerfield Homeowners Association.
Sal, thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us today.
SI - Very good, Bob.
BG - Sal, tell us where you're from originally. Where you grew up, where you went to school as a youngster, and what brought you out to Long Island?
SI - Bob, I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, moved back to Long Island where my father's family is from when I was about six years old, and have lived on Long Island the rest of my life. I went to school in Queens, I attended Pratt Institute for two years and took some engineering courses, some courses at Long Island University, additional courses to help me with my promotions at the Sperry Gyroscope Company.
BG - And that was where you first started to work as you came out of school?
SI - When I came out of high school, I went to work with my Dad, who was in the construction business as a wood, wire, and metal lather, so I carried a union card in Local 6. After coming out of the Army, being discharged in 1953, I was employed by the Sperry Gyroscope Company as a machinist, I then later was promoted into production control, and as a process engineer. During that period of time I continued with my union activities for Local 450 and Local 470.
BG - The IUE started in 1949, breaking away, when James Carey and his group broke away from the UE (United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America), due to some rumors of Communist involvement with the UE. Tell us what it was like, in 1953, to be an IUE member and how greatly did the conflict with the UE, and the whole anti-Communist movement at that time influence or dominate any thought or activities of the union?
SI - The IUE, as you indicated, broke away from the UE. That fight basically was still going on. The reasons of why they broke away were always discussed. Local 450, at the time I joined, had roughly 16,000 members. 3,000 of them were Professional, Technical, and Salaried, which then became Local 470, but again, the IUE was influenced a great deal by its association with the UE.
BG - How did the IUE initially stack up versus the UE in it's ability to negotiate with the industrial giants of the time, the GE's of the world? Was there ever any worry about the IUE's ability to forge as strong a set of agreements with these companies as the UE could?
SI - Well, what you had then is you had two unions trying to do the same thing. When the IUE would negotiate with some of the giants like General Electric, the UE was also in negotiations and there was a sense of competition, until the election of Paul Jennings, who, with the help of George Meany at the time, the President of the AFL-CIO, developed a coordinated bargaining strategy where all of the unions, whether they were part of the AFL-CIO or not, formed a coalition to take on the company.
BG - So, you had mentioned that your first local was Local 450 at Sperry. What was your first official position with the local, and then how did you move on after that within the local, at the local level?
SI - In my first year at Sperry I was elected Shop Steward, and in the year or so later I was elected as one of the Chief Stewards in Local 450.
BG - When did you decide that you wanted to, sort of speak, move up the ladder in the IUE? Was it a conscious decision on your part? Did future IUE President Paul Jennings, who was also a Local 450 member I believe, play any part in your development as a union person? Or, were there others involved? Did it just sort of happen?
SI - While I was growing up, in my home, there was always the discussion about unions. My father was a union member, very proud to be a member of the Teamsters, he worked as a longshoreman, he drove over the land type of trucking, always had that union button on his cap, it was always discussion among he and his seven brothers, who were also union members, about the union. One of my uncles was a Business Agent in the construction union. I always admired that, and frankly always thought that that's exactly what I wanted to do.
BG - What was Sperry's attitude, the company's attitude, to the IUE in general and to your involvement in particular. Were they cooperative with you and the Local? Were they cooperative with the time demands that you needed to be able to perform your official union duties?
SI - They were not anti-union, they were not bending over backwards to assist the union, they recognized the union was there. They tried to cooperate. When I became President I instituted a policy that no grievances would go to arbitration until I personally sat down with the top management, and we then resolved about 90 percent of everything that was on the table.
BG - How much agreement and comradeship was there between the Local leadership and the rank and file? Was it difficult to garner general support? Was it easier or more difficult than you had anticipated?
SI - There's always a problem in getting people to come to membership meetings. It was so then and it is today. Ten percent of anything seems to run 100 percent of what the organization is. And so what we did is that we developed there, the leadership in 450 and 470, we would bring the union to the people. We would pick a day during the week in which the entire place would be told to "brown bag it," kind of bring their lunch, the union leadership would get up on the desks or the benches, and throughout that plant, and it was a huge plant, that was all you would hear was the union message. In that way, we forged a better bond between ourselves and the people we were representing.
BG - The James Carey - Paul Jennings presidential election, the International election of 1964, will forever be etched in IUE and Labor history. A very hotly contested and controversial election. What are your recollections of that election?
SI - At that point, I was President of Local 470 and a delegate to the convention in Cleveland, where probably the largest political blood bath took place in the IUE. The fight there began two years before, when Jim Carey interfered in an election that was being held in our District, which was then District Four. Carey and his candidates lost that election to Milton Weihrauch and Paul Jennings and Joe Iozzi, and I forget what the other position was, and then this carry over battle took place at the convention in, I believe, it was 1962. Part of the fight there was that Carey, in an effort to take over more of the authority of the union, decided on a proposal that all union dues would go to Washington, D.C. Prior to that, the union dues, a piece of the check went to the International union, a piece went to the Districts, and 60 percent of the dues went to the local unions. Carey was proposing that all dues go to Washington, D.C. That developed a battle not only in our particular district but in other districts as well. So, that part of that battle and the announcement that Paul Jennings was going to be a candidate against Jim Carey came out of that kind of a fight.
BG - Because Paul Jennings was from District Three originally, did he have the overwhelming support in the New York metro and New Jersey area? How difficult was it not to support, if that was the case, such a historic figure in the labor movement as was James Carey?
SI - Prior to that election, the newspapers were filled with stories about the internal fight in the IUE. That even developed into fist fights in the IUE headquarters between Jim Carey and Hartnett (Al Hartnett) at the time who is the Secretary - Treasurer. And so, the battle was on. And so, it wasn't difficult for people to pick sides, especially with the dues proposal, the pros and cons of that. As far as Jennings was concerned, I believe he carried about 70 percent of the vote of the New York - New Jersey district.
BG - You mentioned Al Hartnett. He left the International probably before Jennings was elected. What happened there with Al Hartnett? That seemed to be a very controversial time in his career there, also.
SI - Because he was part of this coalition to curtail the activities of Jim Carey, the dictatorial attitude that Carey had developed, it moved away from democracy according to these people. So he and Al Hartnett, who formed the IUE, and were its first leaders, had this tremendous split. After the battle of 1962 at the convention where Carey, although Jennings at some point becomes a candidate against him, Carey really won that fight of the delegates, and came out stronger certainly than Al Hartnett, all the forces that were aligned against him. He used that muscle to pass resolutions at that convention that gave him the authority to reprimand Al Hartnett if Al Hartnett continued what he described as these "destructive activities." And, so, not long after that convention ended, a resolution was passed by the IUE Executive Board to suspend Al Hartnett, and during that suspension, the local unions, in accordance with the constitution, were called upon to recall him from office, and so he was then subsequently recalled.
BG - And did he go on to the UE after that?
SI - No, he did not. He went out on his own and formed a labor consulting type firm, and became really an agitator toward the labor movement and specifically the IUE. He hired himself out to companies that would be anti-union, getting him to getting himself involved in organizational activity to do what he could to hurt the IUE.
BG - Turning to Paul Jennings, give us your perspectives on the differences between James Carey and Paul Jennings in terms of philosophy, leadership style in the kind of Presidents that they were.
SI - Jennings was a warm, intellectual type. Jennings liked to lead. He was certainly more democratic. He lived through the Carey battles. He tried to not emulate any of that. He had a great relationship with George Meany, better than the relationship that Carey had, and so he was able to utilize the AFL-CIO in not only collective bargaining, forming coalitions of unions to face giant corporations such as GE, Westinghouse, RCA. He had the best organizational record of any International union president in all the years that I served in the IUE, and I was, and I have worked for every International president including Jim Carey.
BG - One last question on Jim Carey. If he had indeed won that 1964 election, do you think the union could have reunited under his leadership? Or, would it have left the union open to a potentially damaging internal fight and maybe even a future takeover by another group or another union?
SI - If he had legitimately won it, and use the word legitimately advisedly, what happened in that election is that as the ballots were being counted charges were filed by the Jennings forces with the Labor Department and a recount took place. The first count indicated that Carey had won the election. The second count was that Jennings had soundly defeated Carey. But had he legitimately won that election, I believe the union would have united behind him.
BG - In the late 1950s and early 1960s, increased global competition in electronics manufacturing was beginning to become very evident, especially from Japan. The IUE had strong alliances with its overseas labor organization counterparts like Denki Roren in Japan. Did this cooperation help or hurt the American worker, and did the IUE and American unions in general react quickly enough to this new wave of off-shore manufacturing?
SI - I think these other unions who visited our country regularly, and we had delegations going over and conversing with them, eventually at some point it was obvious that they were defending their own industries. They weren't basically interested in joining us in a fight for fair trade rather than free trade, because they were getting the benefit of it. Countries like Japan during that period of time, their manufacturing base grew tremendously, while ours were shrinking. So, I would say it was OK in a sense that the coalition between ourselves and them helped in collective bargaining when we were negotiating with Japanese companies who had moved to the United States, so there was that advantage. But, it was limited.
BG - In November of 1967, District Three underwent a change in leadership with the investigation of Milton Weihrauch and Joseph Iozzi, and the elevation of Bill Bywater to Administrator of the District. What are your recollections of those events in the District, and did the rank and file agree with and support the changes that were taking place?
SI - At that time, I was an International Representative, so, and a friend of Bill Bywater's. So, I was kind of intimately involved in what was going on. Apparently there was a great deal of stealing over a number of years of dues money that was used for other purposes than what that was intended. Bill was instrumental in leading the investigation, along with Paul Jennings, who was now the President of the International union, and the former Secretary of the District, so Paul knew the ins and outs of what was going on. The rank and file absolutely supported the investigation, and supported then the results, and then elevated Bill Bywater from this administrative position that he held at that time to the presidency of the District.
BG - So, it didn't effect the moral of the rank and file whatsoever or cause any discouragement? People just moved on as normal?
SI - Yes, and I think there was a good feeling about the fact that something had happened that should not have happened, and the union cleaned up its own mess.
BG - You mentioned your role as International Representative, and in going through the District's papers, I see a lot of activity, from when you were President of the District, with the International Representatives. Describe for me the job of the International Representative. What were the main duties of that person, as being like a liaison between the International and the District?
SI - Well, the International Representatives were assigned to the Districts. They were employed by the International union. The constitution of the IUE provided that the International President would cooperate with the District President in getting the program of the union done, and that program included all of our social activities plus the activities necessary for the servicing of the membership which included negotiations, arbitration, legislative activity, and what have you. In the early days, in the days when I was an International Representative, the International Representative not only did that kind of work, but in the mornings and at night did organizing activity. And its always been that a good servicing representative who had the ability to do all of the jobs was also a good organizer. What you looked for, obviously, in somebody like that was somebody who was gregarious, well liked, spoke well, and needed to be able to write because leaflets were part of the communications in those days, and had the ability to meet people. I think the labor movement suffered and it continues to suffer from the fact that we're not as diversified in our organizers as we should be. Obviously women now dominate a great deal of the jobs in our industry and not enough women are in these categories where they meet face-to-face with the rank and file. That's also because women don't get as active as men do. That has changed now that women are no longer part-time workers or helpers of the family. Today a good majority of the women who work are working out there to protect and defend their families, and so there's probably a bigger pool to pick from.
BG - I noticed in some of the papers that in later years the International Representatives reported or were members of their own union, the Congress of Industrial Organizers (CIO). Tell me about that and were you part of that? How did that all come about where they're working for a union but they're a member of another union?
SI - This goes back, again, to the Jim Carey - Al Hartnett fight, and again, this was strictly politics, and it was a question of which group was going to run the union. The staff were now caught in the middle. In the early days of the Jim Carey - Al Hartnett relationship, Carey gave Hartnett a great deal of authority, and part of that authority was to be the editor of the IUE News, which was the communications media at the time used by them. Also, he was in charge of the staff. During the battle, the staff was split somewhat, with the great, great majority supporting the Carey position as the International President, and still a group with Al Hartnett. When, at some point after that convention, that violent convention (Cleveland 1962), the organizers were feeling somewhat put upon and their jobs were in jeopardy depending on who they were going to support, decided to seek union representation. This was blessed by Carey because it was aimed at Al Hartnett. If they had more independence, they would be stronger for Carey than they were for Hartnett, and so Carey blessed this, and the CIO was born. The contract was signed spelling out the security that an International Representative had. A great deal of authority still rests with the International union, but the staff now had more job security than they had before.
BG - Getting back to Bill Bywater, he emerged from the Administratorship of District Three as it's President, a role that he held for approximately 12 years prior to his moving on to positions with the International. He appeared to have been both a very popular and very powerful District leader. Is that assessment correct? Tell me your thoughts about Bill Bywater when he was President of District Three.
SI - My relationship with Bill goes back to when I was President of Local 470, and Bill was the Sperry Rand Conference Board chairman. And so Bill led the negotiations, which I was part of the negotiating committee. So, I did have this relationship with Bill. We were friends. We were political allies for a good number of years. When he became President of District Three, one of the great moves he made was to put Archie Cole, whom I sure we will discuss, as his assistant. That gave him the leeway to do a great many things, because Archie brought to the job all of what he learned in the UE, which included educational programs and programs that kept leadership of the union close with the rank and file. And so, Archie handled that while Bill devoted himself to a great deal at that time to the import - export problem, which was beginning to escalate in our country, and which really began in District Three when the exportation by Singer, a large plant in New Jersey, began to send it's jobs overseas, and so Bill was devoting himself to that while Archie did a great deal to keep the District together.
BG - Did you consider yourself a protégé of Bill Bywater? What kind of guidance did he give you personally, and what did he mean to your career?
SI - I think we were friends, I think we were allies, I think I understood what his talents were, and I think he understood mine. I think he, in the beginning, used me in a great deal of the critical negotiations that were going on, in the critical arbitration cases that were going on all over the District, and then, as I organized in the evenings, he decided, and asked me if I would take on the job of Director of Organizing in District Three, which I did.
BG - In studying the Bywater years, it appeared that he had put together quite a leadership team besides Archer Cole, as you were describing. People like Jack Suarez, Marty Veneri, Ed Miller, etc. Tell us about that team. How did they work together, and what kind of influence did they have on you and the future direction that you took?
SI - I followed, obviously, the lead that this team put together. Jack Suarez was the former District President of District Three, which at that point was strictly upstate New York. When District Three and District Four were merged and became District Three itself, Jack became Vice President under Bill Bywater, and so Jack brought a great deal of talent to the team. Marty Veneri was a local union president, but was also the President of the IUC (Industrial Union Council) in New Jersey, which was a large organization, and so Marty brought a great deal of talent, and then Ed Miller, I thought, was a local, a large amalgamated local union President when he became Treasurer, also added to that group. And, in that group was myself and Archie Cole, so instead of a four person team, it was a six person team, with Archie and myself probably knowing more rank and filers, more local union leaders than the leadership of the District because they were concerned with other activities. In Marty's case, legislative work, in Jack's case, negotiations as well as the housing programs that we developed, Ed Miller devoting himself to the finances and improving them over what we had before, because this was immediately after the investigation and the over throw of Milton Weihrauch.
Tape One, Side Two
BG - In 1969 and early 1970, there was the huge strike against General Electric, the success of which was attributed to unions bonding and bargaining together under a system that you had mentioned earlier called coordinated bargaining. Now, back then, GE was considered extremely difficult company to deal with due to their philosophy called Boulwarism, if I'm pronouncing that correctly. Describe Boulwarism to us, and tell us how the IUE and other unions were able to win this hallmark strike against it.
SI - Well, Boulware (Lemuel Ricketts Boulware) was the name of the chief negotiator for the General Electric Corporation, and he developed a philosophy that sounded like, "tomorrow morning, I'm putting my final package on the table. We're not going to negotiate any further. Take it or leave it." And, the IUE at some point, at some point he put this kind of package on the table and the IUE rejected it, went back to the bargaining table, he refused to move off of that package, just as he had announced. IUE filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, unfair labor practices charges, and struck the company.
BG - And how did you eventually, did Boulwarism continue after this strike? Or, was that effectively the death knell of it.
SI - That was the death knell of that activity. The unions then, this coalition of unions put together by really George Meany, headed by Paul Jennings at this point, I think the strike was 100 some odd days, I'm really not sure any more, but one of the main things that came out of that strike, the unity that came out of that strike was incredible. We had no strike fund, we had no moneys to give to strikers, we had no way of supporting them except through emergency funds, or funds that were being contributed by other AFL - CIO unions, and what we did is we went around and held membership meetings, and the members began contributing $2 a member in these plants towards this particular strike. Not every member did this, but enough members did it where we were able to supply, during those days, a miniscule sum but a sum of $14 a week. This was often contributed money by our rank and file. So the end of that strike also saw a stronger union under the leadership of Paul Jennings, which we then utilized to go out and negotiate and build the union to the highest number of people that we had ever had. I think the IUE, at that point, went up to 330,000 - 340,000 members and we've never been that high since.
BG - You had mentioned that in 1971, Bill Bywater had named you Director of Organization for District Three. Tell us about that job and what your responsibilities were, and was this a good time to be a union organizer?
SI - Its never a good time to really be a union organizer in America because we're dealing in an anti-union
environment, really with an anti-union country regardless of who the President of the United States is. When
we have Republicans in office, our job is harder. When we have Democrats in office, they don't improve our
lot, but they don't hurt it as much. So, in 1971, when I became Director of Organization, we had 32
International Representatives reporting to me. All of them serviced and organized. We did not separate the
assignments. And we did a great deal of good organizing, as the records would show. In the years that I was
Director of Organization we organized between 3,500 and 4,000 members a year while servicing the membership.
The anti-union attitude then is no different than it is today. Today you have the union labor movement, as of
this week, demonstrating across this whole country about trying to do what? By trying to get a fairer deal
with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
(Interviewer's note: What Sal Ingrassia is referring to is the December, 2005 International Human Rights Day demonstrations. The CWA Internet site described the events this way: "The events were coordinated by the AFL-CIO, which hosted a large-scale rally in Washington at which workers marched from the Federation to the White House. 'America used to stand proud before the world as a land where the right of working people to have a union was respected. But today, that right has been destroyed, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson said.'")
We can no longer win elections, because elections are no longer allowed in this country. Companies who find out that they're being organized threaten the workers by moving the work overseas. If you ever get to a point where you get to an election, the company files objections or doesn't negotiate a first contract, the NLRB during it's investigations, takes as much as five years to investigate unfair labor practices charges, and so the committee that you had, that you were working with, has now been successfully disbanded. So it took hard work. We developed a, when I became Organizational Director, we developed a way to win by knowing every body in the plant that we were going to depend on to vote, whether they were for us or against us. We knew who they were, we knew their wives, how many children they had, and if they had a dog, where they lived, what kind of economic situation they were in, and if we didn't know all of that, we did not go ahead with the election. And when we did know all of that, we won.
BG - What was the industrial landscape of New York and New Jersey in the early 1970s. Who were the dominant players in the manufacturing business in District Three back then? Where were they located, and where would you say were the largest concentration of these shops?
SI - The big players, and the spine of the IUE was always General Electric, Westinghouse, RCA, General Motors. District Three had a little bit of all of that. We had the RCA plants in Camden, New Jersey, we had Westinghouse plants in New Jersey as well as a large Westinghouse plant that Lou Dudek, who became my Vice President, came out of in Buffalo. Other smaller plants, other GE plants. A large GE plant in Schenectady, New York, and upstate New York we had about six GE plants from Syracuse to Albany. That was basically, in the 70s and 80s, the backbone of the IUE. That backbone began to melt away as GE developed this strategy, as enunciated by their leadership, that they fly many flags, and Jack Welch at one point, who was the CEO of General Electric once said, that if he had his choice, he would put his GE plants on a barge and move them around the world to get the work done as cheap as he can and increase his profit level, so they were no longer American corporations. Westinghouse followed that example as it always did. RCA was more pro-union than anti-union, but eventually had to succumb to the import problem, so that backbone at some point has melted away and we have very little of it left today.
BG - What was the role of state labor federations like those of the AFL-CIO, organizations like the New Jersey Industrial Union Council. How did they help or augment District Three? And, was there ever any conflict on which one you belonged to and which one you maybe didn't belong to? I sense that there may have been.
SI - New Jersey and one other state in the Union were the only states that had at some point an industrial, IUC type of organization. All of the other ones who did, at some point, merged into the AFL-CIO structure. New Jersey continued to have both and there was a conflict between the AFL-CIO and the IUC. There was, the conflict was basically about legislative activity. The AFL-CIO seemed to be leaning more in the area of construction type of activity, where the IUC was where the industrial workers were. And so the programs, the legislative programs which they were supporting were different. Where they could get together they did, but most times, they were battling for the minds and hearts of the rank and file. So they became really, two opposition forces in the state of New Jersey. That has dissipated over the years. The role of these organizations was basically in the legislative areas, where they would be an assistant to IUE is where we were seeking legislation in the state of New Jersey, basically. Also, the kind of people we wanted to support, what kind of congressional people we wanted to support, and I think our records show in many instances the District under my leadership was out in front, not only in the presidential area but in the congressional elections, legislative elections, but they were there to lend their support in any way they could.
BG - Also, in the early 70s, the political climate of the country was undergoing another change. We were still caught in the Vietnam conflict, a war that many blamed originally on the Johnson Administration, and that many feel led to the conservative shift in the country that we're still feeling today. Did you see any backlash against organized labor during this period because of perhaps its perception of being more Democratic than Republican?
SI - I think the Vietnam war increased industrial employment in this country, and so we were organizing larger shops during this period of time. There was, I thought, less anti-union activity during that period of time. You had Johnson, you had a Democratic administration in Washington, the Vietnam war, how it hurt the labor movement, is because we were promised by President Johnson, who won in a landslide over Goldwater (Barry), that right after the Civil Rights Act was passed by he and his administration, the next problem that they would tackle was the Taft - Hartley Law, especially section 14B of that law, which was set up to form the National Labor Relations Board, which turned to be anti-union activity by that board. That we would correct those things and we would make it not easier but fairer for us. Level the playing field for us, but we never got there, because of the Vietnam War. The strength that he had in Congress, even among his Democratic allies, dissipated because of that war. There was a split in the Democratic Party as well as the Republican Party about that war, and so if the labor movement got hurt at all by that war, it was because we were again side tracked, and the fact is that I can tell you that in the last 60 years, there has never been any meaningful labor legislation by any administration. And Johnson was the hope that we had, and again, that war dissipated that.
BG - Lets talk briefly about a couple of the social action initiatives from that time period back in the 70s as you had mentioned, and also during the 60s with the Civil Rights Act. The country was adjusting to a new day of race relations. Labor unions in general and the IUE in particular were in the forefront of social action in terms of the civil rights movement. Give me your recollections of what this movement meant to both the leadership and the rank and file of the IUE, that being the civil rights movement.
SI - It was the civil rights - human rights, it brought to the forefront all of the agony that was going on by a certain segment of our population, and a population that was growing in the rank and file in our own union. The fact is when I became President, I chose Harold Morrison, and African-American leader, a local union leader in a GE plant and a member of the negotiating committee for the IUE, so he had a great deal of talent, but I chose him and he was the first black American to be on the International Union Executive Board, and certainly as a District Leader and was, I guess until the time we left, the only black leader to be in the IUE District's chain of command. So it made a great deal of impression upon me. I was honored by many of the black organizations because of our activity. We won, on seven different occasions, the King-Kennedy Award, which was given for that kind of activity, and those awards were given out every two to four years, and so, I think we would have won it even more if it was given out on a yearly basis. The winners were chosen outside of our union based strictly on our record. We devoted ourselves to civil and human rights, we devoted ourselves to education. Education brought the membership together. It brought people together to know not only how to handle the grievance but to discuss the problems internally in the shop that are created by these racial problems, and I thought that we were a more unified District because of it.
BG - And in another social action area, the 70s witnessed one of the hallmarks of the gender equity movement, with the Gilbert vs. GE case, where IUE member Martha Gilbert's legal challenge to receive benefits while pregnant eventually would lead to the Family Leave Act. Did District Three play any role in that particular case, and what was District Three's role in general in the gender equity movement? SI- The only role we played in that case was to be supportive. We supplied information where discrimination in our plants was prevalent, so that it could be brought to the attention and be of help in the case, we did all that. Again, when I became President, I picked a young lady, Leni-Anne Shuchter to be my assistant, again, the first time in the labor movement, at least in the IUE, that that took place. And, by the way, I wasn't just picking people because of their gender or their race. I was picking really qualified people. The people who I picked were outstanding and performed outstanding work. But it made me a more acceptable leader to the rank and file of the union because I did those kinds of things, and I did those kinds of things because I felt it.
BG - By the mid-1970s, the winds of change were blowing in the IUE again, which would have a direct impact on District Three and to your career. Paul Jennings resigned as President of the International due to health reasons, and Bill Bywater made it pretty clear that he had International office aspirations when he ran against David Fitzmaurice in the election of 1977, an election that he lost. 1977 was also the year that you were elected Chairman of the Professional, Technical, and Salaried Conference Board, and election that was challenged and eventually sent to President Fitzmaurice for review. What happened there? You didn't continue very long in that position, correct?
SI - I never assumed the job. I was challenged, although I was a Professional, Technical, and Salaried local union President, Local 470, certainly had the qualifications to assume that position, it was challenged on the basis that the local union that I was now paying dues to was not a Professional, Technical, and Salaried local. It was Local 485, located in Brooklyn, an amalgamated local union of blacks, hispanics, and what have you, that I'm still a member of, so basically I was challenged, and at some point during the challenging process I withdrew, so I never assumed the position.
BG - David Fitzmaurice succeeded Paul Jennings and became the third President of the IUE. Give us your thoughts and recollections of Fitzmaurice. Was he an effective President?
SI - He was probably, except for the early days of Jim Carey, when we in the IUE did not tell people we were in the IUE only because people didn't recognize the IUE as quickly as they would the UAW or the Steelworkers or what have you, so we would tell people we're in the Jim Carey union, and everybody knew Jim Carey, he was a good leader in the early part of his career. Fitzmaurice, in my opinion, was equal to that. He was a conservative, conservative in a sense that he husbanded the union's money, he dealt fairly with problems, and if challenged, he knew how to fight, so he was a respected leader. I had a great deal of respect for David Fitzmaurice, although he came from Ohio and I came from New York.
BG - In 1978, you became Vice President of District Three. In 1980, Louis Dudek, who we had mentioned before, was named the Vice President and you moved over to Secretary - Treasurer. Was that like a lateral move for you and what was behind that switch? And, what were the day-to-day differences in those two positions, Vice President and Secretary - Treasurer?
SI - The Secretary - Treasurer's job has constitutional required duties, the Vice President's job is basically to assist the President, to assume the office in the event the President is incapacitated, what have you. The Secretary - Treasurer's job again had constitutional duties also. The President and the Secretary - Treasurer of the District were the permanent members on the International Union Executive Board, the Vice President served as long as the membership of the District maintained a certain level. When that level was reduced, then the Vice President would also be reduced, so I wanted to have the constitutional protection as well as the constitutional duties versus the other arrangement. In the structure of the IUE, the Secretary - Treasurer of the District has a higher position than the Vice President.
BG - Earlier you had mentioned Archer Cole, and when Bill Bywater moved on to the International in 1980, Archer Cole took over as District Three President, and remained in that office for approximately three and one half years. Let's talk a little bit about Archie Cole. I have read where, back in the 1950s, at a couple of Congressional hearings, he took the fifth amendment a couple of times, and after he had moved over from the UE to the IUE, and one of these hearings took place, James Carey effectively, I don't know if "black listed" is the right word, but basically banished him from the IUE for a period of maybe about ten years. What is your recollection of that and do you think it was justified?
SI - I met Archie Cole as part of the Bywater team. No, the fact is I met him early on when I was an International Representative at a staff meeting. He was introduced to me personally and to the staff by Milton Weihrauch, who had just hired him as an assistant, not so much as an assistant to the President but as a communications person. Archie had at that point, I think, some kind of a printing operation, and so he was able to do that kind of work, very talented in that way. So I got to know him that way. When I was more involved in the Bywater administration, and after Weihrauch was removed from office, then Bywater made Archie Cole his assistant. I got to work closer with Archie Cole, and learned a little bit about what I had been hearing rumors and whispers about. Apparently he was one of the outstanding organizers of the UE. His position at the UE was maybe a little bit better than organizer, in charge of other organizers. He was a very talented guy, he knew how to write, knew how to speak. He knew the issues, knew how to win campaigns, and that's why Weihrauch and then Bywater put him on the payroll. When Weihrauch put him on the payroll, I understand Jim Carey refused to pay him and refused to give him any recognition as an International Representative or anything else like that, and so the District was paying him. I think in the early days, if memory serves me correctly, that was also true of the Bywater situation, except now, Paul Jennings was the President and Jennings and Bywater did have this relationship. They both had come out of New York, and both were involved in the dismissal of the Weihrauch team, and at this point, Archie Cole was put on the payroll as a staff representative, although acting as an assistant to Bywater. He was accused by a Congressional investigation of being a Communist, of being involved in the Communist UE. He was asked to, as I understand from him, he was asked to reveal who else was at meetings with him during that period of time, and he refused to give that information. He said that he would talk about any of his own personal activities but not anybody else's, and then when asked certain questions he took the fifth amendment, which did not sit well, either with Carey or the rank and file of either the UE or the IUE, and so he suffered a great deal from that decision, as other's did, as other Americans did, which is well known today.
BG - But it was Paul Jennings and Bill Bywater that brought him back in to the IUE after a period of time?
SI - I think it was Weihrauch that brought him back but it was Bywater and Jennings who made him more acceptable.
BG - So now the District is going through another transitional time, from Bill Bywater's years, now to Archie Cole. How did these years prepare you for the role that you would eventually be assuming?
SI - Again, all of this has a story. At the point that Bywater moves into the Secretary - Treasurer's job with Fitzmaurice as President, I'm the Vice President of the District, and, under the constitution, I should have moved in. Archie came to me and we had a discussion as man-to-man and he said that he'd like to end a very long career as President, and would not like to engage in a political struggle with me and he because of the relationship that we had over the years. I agreed, I said all right, I'll assume the Secretary - Treasurer's job, you will be the President and fill out Bill Bywater's term, and part of the arrangement that he and I made is that he would run one term after that, which was a two year term which gives him the three years, and then at some point he was going to go to Washington to assist Bill Bywater as Organizational Director.
BG - Meanwhile, progressive Democrats had an opportunity to re-establish control of the nation's agenda, with the post-Watergate backlash and then the election of Jimmy Carter to the Presidency in 1976. Of course, gasoline shortages, high interest rates, and finally the hostage crisis in Iran all served to undermine Carter's years, resulting in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. From a labor perspective, how was Jimmy Carter viewed, and what do you think caused him to be only a one term President, besides the things that I mentioned?
SI - I think he was viewed as a weak President. I think his heart was in the right place. I think he was probably the most decent person we have had, even though we have had other decent people in that job, but he was certainly a warm and decent man. I think he's been more effective since he left the Presidency. I think he's more respected since he's left the Presidency, and I think that his legacy will be more marked by his activities afterwards than they were when he was in the White House. He didn't help us and he didn't hurt us.
BG - Organized labor's struggles with President Reagan's labor policies are pretty well documented. Give me your impressions of Ronald Reagan. What do you think his legacy should be from a labor perspective? What effect did the eight years of President Reagan have on the labor movement overall?
SI - Reagan made scabbing in this country a national pastime. Where prior to that, people crossing picket lines were frowned upon by their family and friends, the struggle by the Controllers (Air Traffic Controllers) who are one of two unions in this country to support Reagan, the rest of the labor movement supported his opponent, the way he paid them back, and although they met with him and discussed their problems, he said that they would have his support, when they did strike, he had to satisfy his conservative base and act like John Wayne, ok? So, that's what he did, fired all of them. Some of them, God bless them, have been put back to work by the Clinton Administration. But for the eight years he then served as President, from that moment on, there was a chilling effect in this country towards the labor movement. Companies were emboldened. The National Labor Relations Board was emboldened. The country changed from being fair to being unfair, with nobody fighting on the side of the American workers.
BG - Speaking of, the early 1980s also marked the end of the career of Senator Harrison "Pete" Williams of New Jersey, who had to leave office because of the unfortunate circumstances due to the ABSCAM investigation. Senator Williams was known as very strong for labor. Do you have any reflections on Senator Williams and did you have any dealings with him in New Jersey?
SI - No, and other than the fact that the way you described him as a pro-labor Senator, that's the way he came across, that's his record, I met him on one or two occasions. I thought Archie Cole was alot closer to Senator Williams than I was.
Tape Two, Side One
BG - In April of 1984, Archie Cole moved onto the International and to the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, paving the way for your election to the Presidency of District Three, a post that you would hold for some 20 years. Describe your thoughts as you assumed this high position.
SI - I was thrilled. As much as I enjoyed working with others, I was going to get an opportunity to maybe do things my way, change things. Instead of having to discuss what my plans were and getting approval, I was going to be able to put them into effect. And so months in advance, knowing that this was going to happen, I put together the team that I thought I would need, and made plans during that period of time so that we hit the ground running right after the election was over. I think that the record, the first two years of our administration, would show how quickly we assumed the authority. We always had educational classes, I expanded on that. I went around the district with meetings, area meetings, all over the district, which we had in the past but I expanded them. I invited in politicians, we debated in front of the rank and file. We organized something like some 6,000 people in the first year I was President, we handled hundreds of grievances, which we normally do, handled all of our negotiations and arbitration cases, so we put together a good team and the team worked very well together.
BG - What was the state of trade unionism in the New York - New Jersey area in 1984 when you took over? What did you see were going to be the major challenges that lay ahead as you assumed office?
SI - The major problem in 1984 was the problem that we had in previous years, except what was happening was those problems were escalating. We were continuing to have plants closing, both in New York and New Jersey. We saw the escalation of jobs, at that point, moving to the south and moving overseas, moving to "Right to Work States," where these states were promising these plants brand new facilities, training programs, ten year leases with no payment, tax rebates, where they were getting killed in our area, they were getting all of these advantages, and there was nothing we could do in negotiations that would solve that problem. The fact is what we were hearing in negotiations was, when they announced they were leaving and we'd say "what can we do to keep you here," they would say, "Nothing. There's nothing you can do and there's nothing you can put on the table, and we're letting you know we're leaving." And that was the way the membership was being reduced, and that was the way the labor movement was being reduced, and the hard part about that is that the forces were aligned against us, were using the reduction in our members against us, while supporting programs that were reducing that same membership. We were shipping, you know, for every billion dollars of trade deficit in this country we lost 22,500 American jobs. These are all middle-class American jobs, and I remember the days when Ronald Reagan was President, a one billion dollar deficit in the trade, the export - import problem, was considered a tragedy and had to be taken care of immediately. And today we run three and four and five and six hundred billion dollar deficits and no one cares, no one doesn't even think about it, and for every one of those billions, you lose 22,500 American jobs.
BG - You mentioned before the leadership team that you had put together, Vice President Dudek from Buffalo and also Secretary - Treasurer Harold Morrison. This team was in place for virtually the remainder of the time that the District existed, all during your years in office. How important were these two people to you and how important was it to have such stability at the top of the organization?
SI - Lou Dudek was the President of Local 1581, which was a local union of about 7,000 people, so he had a great deal of skill. He was a member of the Westinghouse Conference Board. He was on the negotiating committee against the corporation, Harold Morrison, as I indicated, came out of a GE plant from Newark, New Jersey, was on the GE Conference Board and the negotiating committee, so they brought those skills in. Lou was very active in the legislative activity, he was very active in the Buffalo AFL-CIO, as Harold was very active in the IUC in New Jersey. We worked very well together, we respected each other, we never had a political fight in the 20 years that we were together.
BG - Bill Bywater took over the International on the passing of David Fitzmaurice in the early 1980s, so lets talk about Bill Bywater as President of the IUE. How would you rate him against the other Presidents that you had served under?
SI - Bill was an effective leader. The record shows that he was an outstanding speaker. He had ideas, he fought against this import problem that was affecting American jobs better than anyone else in the labor movement, and that included the AFL-CIO leadership, which came to that problem a little later than he did. If there was one thing that Bill, we had more political activity when Bill Bywater was President than we did under the other Presidents, more political unrest during this period of time. He operated differently. When he brought Archie Cole to Washington, D.C., he did something that I think hurt our organizational activity and increased the political activity when he made Archie the Director of Organization for the International Union, he then split the staff into a servicing staff and an organizing staff, and God bless him, Archie for trying to get that work done, because what we were doing is we were keeping all of the talented people in the area of servicing because that's where the rank and file had to be satisfied, and maybe the not so talented, at least in the area of organizing, doing that kind of work. So at some point, the organizing activity fell off, and the political activity increased because what you had now was feeding into this new group of organizers were staff people from all over the Districts, and so he had his fingers in those kinds of activities, but I would say to you overall that he was, right up until the end, an effective leader.
BG - How strong was Bywater in trying to reverse the conservative trend that seemed to be enveloping the country during those years? How did he work with people like Ronald Reagan and George Bush the first?
SI - I don't think anybody could really work with Ronald Reagan. I think that from the business, from the time he fired the air traffic controllers, from the pronouncements that he made, and this business that "look, I'm a former union leader. I used to be the President of the Actors Guild," I mean fell on deaf ears. I don't think that Ronald Reagan was well respected in the labor movement. I don't think Bill Bywater had a relationship with Ronald Reagan at all.
BG - Being a District President also made you a Vice President on the International Executive Board. Describe what your duties were on the IEB and how did the IEB influence overall policy of the IUE.
SI - That was the policy making body of the Union, and in between meetings of the Executive Board, under our constitution, of course the President ran the Union, and reported to the International Executive Board when meetings would occur as to his activities. And so that was where the policy that we would follow was being made, as a member of that Executive Board. We'd also accept different assignments by the President, organizational assignments, special servicing type of operations where we had skills, so we would go around the country at his behest, and we would do those kinds of activities.
BG - You mentioned education earlier. It became very noticeable right away that you and your leadership team put the education of your local leaders and members at the forefront by working with people like the Rutgers University School of Labor Relations, Cornell University, and by holding various functions like the Summer Schools. Tell us why you felt this was so important for the District.
SI - As I indicated before, this gave us an opportunity to bring people together, around an issue, that had nothing to do with politics, had nothing to do with legislative activity, had nothing to do with trying to get this done or get that done, it really was bringing people together to impart to them on how to become better union leaders, which those who were participating wanted to do, so it was kind of a neutral ground, where the leadership of the District and the leadership of the local unions could get together. We then made sure that the hard work during the day was compensated by the play at night, so we developed programs that satisfied them. We expanded it at some point to include their wives at their expense or what have you, but we then developed programs for the wives so that they understood what their husbands or their boyfriends, what have you, were doing on the job. And so it was a way of educating the people, bringing in new leadership, developing new leadership, describing to stewards what exactly is the job of a shop steward, how to file a grievance, when to back off, when to know you're going to win, when to know when to go to arbitration, more importantly, when to know not to go, because sometimes you can lose more in arbitration than you can across the bargaining table. And so all of this brought a great deal of good will into the District.
BG - The IUE was always very active politically, but it seemed like in the 1980s, Committee on Political Education, or COPE activities, really escalated. What were the overall goals of the COPE initiatives in District Three, and what did you view as the most effective means of elevating political awareness throughout the District?
SI - There was a great push put on at this point by the International Union Executive Board passed a resolution that every District would now devote a great deal of time and effort to raising COPE monies, COPE awareness, and so we all set out to do that. If I had an objective, it was to get a dollar per member into this COPE fund, and at that point we had maybe 50,000 members. We did a number of things to try and do that, we held raffles, we sold raffle tickets, we had prizes contributed by different vendors and what have you. We went out and purchased prizes to do that. We brought awareness of the issues directly into the shop through leaflets and speeches and plant gate meetings, especially if a plant was being effected by imports, we would then have a big discussion about that, and how COPE activity can stem the tide and what have you, and we did. We were successful in raising our COPE contribution dramatically during this period of time.
BG - And that money went to various political campaigns?
SI - Absolutely, in other words, the money went to the International Union, and then the International Union would discuss with the District officers candidates in New Jersey (for example) that needed that help. Everybody had their hand out, even those who were going to win the election by 70%. And so we had to pick and choose those that needed it right now, and that's what we did.
BG - In 1986, the IUE welcomed the Furniture Workers into the IUE fold. What was the thinking behind adding Furniture Workers to the electronic workers union, and how did it effect overall membership numbers of District Three?
SI - We gained about 5,000 members from the Furniture Workers rank and file locals. One particular amalgamated, Local 76B, added about 2,200 of that 5,000, and they were located in Long Island City. So that was a definite plus. But this was a moment in time in the labor movement when there was no longer any jurisdictional guidelines. There was no longer a skilled guideline. We were now, we added some 900 Social Workers up in Rochester, NY, to our ranks. We added from the Camden County College down in New Jersey people who were part of those unions, a unit of 400 people. So adding Furniture Workers was OK, there was no discrepancy. There was a discussion in the union about how you, when you merge one international union such as the Furniture Workers into the international union IUE, and then into District Three, what do you with their staff representatives, what do you do with their leadership, and so on and so forth, and so we worked our way through those kinds of problems.
BG - Also I think I read where you had organized municipal workers in Dover, Delaware.
SI - Yes, we were the first union to organize workers in the State of Delaware, and these were social workers, these were the clerical workers for the City of Dover's police force, what have you, so we had three bargaining units there with a total membership of 500 people, which I thought was very good.
BG - So, plant closings, relocations, imports, the movement of manufacturing to overseas facilities really began to dominate the headlines as we drew closer to 1990. Union membership was in a decline, and our economy was clearly moving from a manufacturing based economy to a service based economy. How tough was it to keep membership morale at a high level despite these issues?
SI - You know, there got to be an attitude in our plants, after all of this, this has been going on for 20 years at all different kinds of levels, sometimes escalating, sometimes not so bad, but overall, always hanging over the bargaining table was this business that "if you come at us too strong, we're just getting out of here." And so we wound up during this period of time negotiating more from both sides of the table, and that had an effect of course on the bargaining committee and then on the rank and file, because we could no longer go in there and talk about wage increases and what have you. This was a period of time where we began to pay for something toward our hospitalization benefits. This was a period of time where we were concentrating more in the pension area, because the stock market was booming in those days. This was an easier place in the labor movement to make serious gains because there were limited costs. There was enough money in these over-funded pension plans to take over the increased benefits. But in the area of wages and other benefits, we were being stymied. This was a period of time also when suddenly wage increases were no longer automatic across a bargaining table. We were talking about bonuses. Two bonuses and a wage increase. And so, yes, that kind of attitude by the companies and accepted by the trade union movement when you thought you had something at least decent, because you didn't want to strike, you didn't want to jeopardize the plant, did have an effect on the morale of the rank and file, and because it did, it had an effect on the amount of organizing that was going on.
BG - Many non-union people blamed the unions at that time for the conditions that began to exist, stating that the unions had pretty much "priced themselves out" and forced companies to look for other means of manufacturing due to high wage and benefit settlements as you were describing. How do you answer those critics? Or, how did you answer those critics?
SI - Well first of all those critics forgot completely that it took two to tango. It took both, two sides to make any kind of a contract. So anything in the contract was agreed by the company. The companies of course did not take position. They joined in the chorus saying, "look, look what the union is doing to us. They're pricing us out of business." In the meantime, they never curtailed the benefits that they were giving to themselves. This was also the period of time when the gap between the people who worked in the plant and the management at the top level began to expand. It didn't get closer. They didn't take wage cuts to compensate. And it continues until this day, and really going out of site, and its becoming obscene as to what is going on in this country. The wages that people were earning were wages that were negotiated that were justified at the time they were put in to those contracts. Nobody went in and got a $10 an hour wage increase when a 40 cent an hour increase was justified, no one, and no one was crazy enough to negotiate that from either side of the table. So, yes, when you think in terms that you're representing somebody who's making $15 an hour, competing with somebody in the third world making 65 cents an hour, yes, the $15 an hour is way above the 65 cents, however, the $15 an hour person lives in the United States of America, pays taxes, gas taxes and what have you, and this other person lives in a hut, and so, if you want to compare apples with apples, that's one kind of a discussion. If you want to get into this demagogic type of conversation, then you go ahead and you do that, but that's the answer to it.
BG - It seems also in the early 1990s, the international issues like the sales of Japanese imported cars and also our military intervention to protect Middle Eastern oil fields became issues of local focus for labor, not just international type issues. What do you think the role of the District and the locals were in trying to make membership aware of these issues? And, what were the ramifications at the local level for policies such as the import of cars and defending foreign oil fields?
SI - Well, there was this business of "buy American" escalating. I had signs made up that people were putting into their cars that said "I Spend it Where I Make It," and everybody did that. In fact, we sold them for a buck apiece and sent the money to COPE to help out with this activity. But you know, there was something else going on. For years and years and years, especially since I was a young person, there was one theory in this country, that was "monies that you spent on defense industries, on defense activities, monies that were tax money, that money would be spent in the United States." You wouldn't be putting up a defense contract out for bids. Now suddenly during this period of time, not only are we being hurt by the imports and the manufacturing of washing machines and irons and radios and televisions and toothbrushes and all of the other electronics that we had in this country. We were also now suffering from the fact that we were using the defense dollars as part of our program to develop friends across the world. So that's why the Egyptians have 5,000 people making American tanks. The barrels on the tanks are made in West Germany. All of the electronics for our fighter planes are made in Japan. The fact is, that's why today you can stand up an American soldier in front of both of us, and ask him to take off anything that he's wearing or carrying, a knife, a gun, boots, take off anything not made in the United States, and he would stand in front of us naked. That's why today a man can get up in the morning, have coffee, breakfast, go downstairs, put his clothes on, put his shoes on, go downstairs and drive himself to work, work at a machine all day, have lunch, have supper, come home, and never touch anything that was either made or grown in the United States, and that's what's going on, and that's about where it not only, it didn't start there, it just escalated.
BG - Last night I was watching television, the Lou Dobbs show on CNN, so this is real time stuff now, and he made quite an issue about a statement or a report that was put out by the National Association of Manufacturers stating that "manufacturing jobs are here in this country but we no longer have people who are qualified to do them in this country." I know this is kind of out of left field, I really didn't prepare this question, but it made an impact when I heard it last night. What do you think about that kind of a statement?
SI - He's on the right track. The average skilled tradesman in this country, the average skilled person who you can give a blueprint and a schematic to and say "build me this," is probably in his 60's. Its amazing to me when I see General Motors now laying off people, when I see some of these large manufacturing companies laying off people, how this country intends to defend itself. It takes manufacturing people not only to make cars but to make tanks and bullets and the other things. And we're losing those skills. And we're losing those skills because we're sending them out for someone else to do. So that at some point, I guess, some President of the United States, maybe not in my lifetime, will try to go to war with somebody to defend America, and probably the person supplying all of the goods that we need to go war is going to say, "listen, I disagree with you and I'm not going to send you these things," and we now have a foreign policy based upon all of the work we have sent out overseas. We don't have the skills today that we had before. Now we're sending engineering work out of this country. You're sending all of your so called white collar skills that we were going to keep here, and that we were going to then train people. During the NAFTA agreement we were told, "we're only going to give them the non-skilled jobs. We're going to keep all of the skilled jobs." So does that mean when General Motors sends all of the motors to be made to Mexico that these are non-skilled jobs? These are skilled jobs. GE is sending skilled jobs, and now they're taking them out of Mexico and they're sending them someplace else because Mexican wages are getting too high. So you've got a system in this country where Lou Dobbs is absolutely correct. He tries to make this (point) every so often, I wish to hell that he would have been around starting in the 1960s.
BG - Switching gears just a little bit. District Three sponsored two very large housing projects, the Trot Hills Apartments in Troy, New York, and the Jack Kenny Memorial Housing Development in Rochester, New York. Were these complexes intended for union members, retirees, or the general public. Explain to us why District Three was so active in the support of housing complexes like these.
SI - Local 485, which I am now a dues paying member and I have been for, I don't know, 25 or 30 years, and not so much Local 470, because Local 485 was more diversified and I felt more comfortable, but, 485 began the process of housing projects. It had progressive leadership, great leadership in that local union. It was a local at some point of 10,000 people, and had and still have housing projects in Brooklyn, New York. And I believe, even though I was not there when the decision was made, that began the thinking in District Three about having these types of housing projects, and the person I would give direct credit to would be Jack Suarez, and that's why those projects are upstate New York. Jack did the investigating, found out that HUD (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development), the only thing the District needed to legally was to put up some of the seed money, HUD would then build them, we would then as a District we would manage them, not as President of the District would I manage them, but we had a management team. We had a group of local union officers who were the Board of Directors, we hired professionals to run these places. As to what was the intent of them when they were being built, I think that at that point, they were going to be opened as low-cost housing. I'd say to you that as we have gone through the years, from the time they were built, we give them mostly to our retirees, as a priority. By the way, on those housing projects, they're probably in the next five years or so, the mortgages are going to be run out and they're going to have a value of somewhere near 25 million dollars. That money will revert to the rank and file to be used only for educational purposes. Its not to be used to pay wages or organize the unorganized or what have you. Strictly for educational purposes, and so the educational program that we so endeared ourselves to will carry on.
BG - In looking at your newspaper, the District Three Leader from your time period, you're seen in many photos with virtually a who's who of local politics, Governors Mario Cuomo (of New York), Jim Florio of New Jersey, Senator Bill Bradley, just to name a few. How supportive were the local politicians in New York and New Jersey, at that level towards organized labor's plight, and who stood out to you as a real champion for labor?
SI - Governor Mario Cuomo, without exception. Here was a governor who, during a newspaper strike in the middle of New York City, while he was governor, got up in the back of a truck and defended the strikers. A lot of these politicians who people considered to be pro-labor make a great labor speech in a union hall, and then go out the front door and you never hear anything about them again. I would say that some of the ones you mentioned, that's untrue. Their legislative records, their speeches in Congress and their approach is pro-labor, and those were the ones that I wanted to associate myself with. I'm so thrilled to see that (Representative Robert) Menendez from New Jersey now has been appointed now as the United States Senator. He was one of the first people that we supported in New Jersey, and I'm happy to see him assume that leadership.
Tape Two Side Two
BG - Sal, conference boards have always played a major part in the union structure, like those who focused on GE, General Motors, Westinghouse, etc. Describe the relationship of conference boards to both the International and more importantly at the District and Local levels. How great was the synergy between the Boards and the local leadership, and how did this evolve as we moved into the 1990s.
SI - There was a great deal of cooperation between the District, at that level, and the conference board leadership. The conference board leadership was primarily involved in negotiating the contracts. Meeting with the corporations that they represented. The GE Conference Board, people would meet with GE and Westinghouse and so on. The District became involved in the legislative activity of those local unions which belonged to those conference boards. Those local unions would come to the District meetings. I would invite the conference board leadership to not only address obviously their locals but to bring us up to date, to bring the entire District up to date. So, we had one umbrella that covered all of us and we operated as a team. The District helped in the organizing of new conference board plants because they, their staff was somewhat limited, we then supplied that kind of muscle. The educational programs that we ran, all of those conference board people and conference board locals would participate in our programs. And so the relationship between the two entities was close and respectful, and by the way, the conference board chairman also sat as a member of the International Union Executive Board
BG - The "Right to Strike" came under great fire, as we mentioned earlier, the PATCO Air Traffic Controllers
strike in the early 1980s, and it's continued as a topic of debate during the first Bush administration and
currently. Describe the dangers that strikers faced, and what was trying to be legislated against them,
against both strikers and unions, and how did this eventually work out? Do you ever see it working out? Do
unions still have as much of a right to strike as they did in previous decades?
SI- I'd say because of the economics and the size of the labor movement, and a number of different issues, I
would say that the answer is no. The fact is the unions need to think five times, and mull every conceivable
crisis, because once you take the, the easiest part of a strike is the day it starts, and the hardest part is
to end it, to end it the way you went out. Today companies have the right to replace strikers in an economic
strike, so if you're going to strike, you need to look to see if you have an unfair labor practices strike.
If you can win a unfair labor practice strike, you can bring the members back. And if they are replaced, then
the replacements must leave, the scabs must leave. So striking today with the threat that "I'll close the
plant. I'll move to Mexico," is a very real threat, and has a dampening effect on the collective bargaining
process, and on the process of organizing in this country, and that's why you see the labor movement, not
stagnating because it doesn't have a will to go forward, because I think the activity of this week all over
this country shows union people outside of the White House parading back and forth for the right to be union
people. I think that this whole country has been set up, has come to a pinnacle of anti-union activity, where
it started during the Roosevelt years. President Roosevelt was not pro-labor, in my humble opinion, although
a lot of labor legislation was designed and passed on. He did a lot of good things. When he looked at the
labor movement, he looked at the labor movement as a source to put money back into the economy. He wanted to
get rid of the company type unions
(Interviewer note: a company union is an employer controlled union, run by the company, and having no affiliation with independent, democratic labor organizations) and get independent unions so that unions could negotiate better for their people, get money back. So there was a plus and a minus, but out of that administration came the Taft-Hartley Law and all of that crap, which has never been good for us, so again, in 65 years, there hasn't been one piece, not one piece, of good labor legislation, in all of those years, depending on which administration it was.
BG - So let's talk about another piece of legislation. In 1992, District Three was the first District to declare itself for the presidential candidacy of Bill Clinton. Now this time, you had a winner. Immediately you were on board with his attempt to provide the National Health Care initiative, but you had serious problems, obviously, with the NAFTA agreement. Tell us why NAFTA was supported by the Clinton Administration, and tell us how it hurt union workers in America.
SI - My disagreement with President Clinton on the NAFTA agreement, I disagreed with the premise that we were going to send these non-skilled jobs to Mexico. In the meantime, we're taking in people from Haiti. Our immigration is from all over the world. These were non-skilled people coming into our country. We had thousands upon thousands of non-skilled jobs in the south in our cotton mill areas. These non-skilled jobs that were going to go there, what were these Americans going to do? In the meantime, we had programs like we're going to end welfare as we know it, we're going to stop all of the programs that help people. In the meantime we're going to pass legislation that throws them out of work. And so anybody with any common sense, in my opinion, could see that. It wasn't just me looking at that. I'm sure he had people surrounding him that were looking at that. The second thing I disagreed with was that fact that we had him beat on the NAFTA agreement. We had the votes to beat the NAFTA agreement. He then extended himself, as only he could do, you know, "and if you vote for me, that bridge that you're looking for in your county, you're going to get it," and got enough votes to pass the NAFTA agreement, over the objections of the people who went out and broke their backs to get him into the White House. He didn't care about it. One of the things that I disagree with politicians on is that when they're at the local level and when they're running for the job, they're your best friend. When they get into the job, they become "global leaders." They stop being Americans, and they stop being New Jerseyans or New Yorkers and they become something that you didn't elect. They're looking at the world. Don't look at the world, look at your back yard! So, I disagree and still disagree with him on that because I think he did us a disservice. What was the second part, Bob?
BG - Besides your disagreement over NAFTA, your general assessment of the eight years of Bill Clinton in regards to the labor movement in the United States.
SI - Well you mentioned the "right to strike." We had legislation in Congress and in the Senate. We needed two votes to pass the kind of legislation that would return the right to strike. And two of those Senators came out of his home state. Here is the same President who twisted arms and knew how to get the vote for NAFTA, suddenly didn't know how to get us the votes, I need say no more.
BG - So I get a sense that by the mid 1990s, that was right about the time that, both locally and nationally, the IUE was beginning to get a feeling of perhaps some vulnerability because of declining membership and unfavorable political climate, again even though we had a Democratic White House. Is this a true assessment, and what methods, for lack of a better term, were used to try to stem that tide and that feeling? This is the mid-1990's now.
SI - In 1996 we had this major election between Bywater and Ed Fire, and I think that prior to that election, we were losing members, our loss of members was escalating. We were now down to from a union of 330,000 to 340,000, we were now down to a union of 125,000 people, and we didn't see the bottom. Our organizing efforts had been stymied because we couldn't replace people who were retiring. We didn't have the skills out there no more, and we were turning ourselves into a servicing union, which was fine, and we did that very, very well, the membership was happy with that kind of activity, but what that leads to eventually is your demise. You're bringing in no new blood, you're bringing in no new leadership, and you have no vision to expand what you're doing, and so that can only be contraction, and so, in the latter part of the 90's, we began an earnest effort to see where we could merge with a union of like ideas.
BG - You mentioned the Bywater - Fire 1996 election. It was a very divisive election between Bill Bywater and Ed Fire for the presidency of the International. District Council Three backed Ed Fire, but this must have been a very difficult time for you as a former long associate of Bill Bywater. What were your thoughts regarding this election and the role you had to play?
SI - Well the background of why that election took place goes back to when Dave Fitzmaurice passed away, Bill Bywater assumes the presidency, Ed Fire, who was at this point the chairman, I believe, yes the Chairman of the General Motors Conference Board and a powerful leader in Ohio, is appointed by the Executive Board to be Secretary - Treasurer. Their age difference was considerable, and so they did have a meeting, where Bill said, "look, I'm going to serve maybe three terms or what have you, and then I'm leaving." That period of time came up in 1992, when Bill was supposed to, according to the agreement he made with Ed Fire, leave and pass the mantle on. He decided to run one more term. We imposed upon Ed to back off, let's have peace, we have enough problems in the union, let's have peace, let Bill run one more four-year term, and then Bill said, " I will then turn it over to you." That was 1996. In 1996, Bill decided, no, one more term was not enough, that he was going to stay on. So, I didn't find it difficult at all because I was part of the agreement to back Ed off, the previous election. And, Ed was asking me to run with him as the Secretary - Treasurer of the union, which I accepted at that point, and Bill knew I did. And so I had no problems in supporting Ed because, for the lack of a better word and in the vernacular of the labor movement, he was being double-crossed. So I had no problem. Yes, it was a divisive election, it went on for two years, there was a great deal of activity, but again, when the smoke cleared, Ed had won. I had backed away from the position of Secretary - Treasurer because I thought we needed three solid districts lined up to beat an incumbent, and the way to do that, in my opinion, was that I would back away and offer the Secretary - Treasurer to a leader of another district, which would cement that district with us, and between the three districts, we could beat them.
BG - The Secretary - Treasurer election caused some problems in itself, as it turned out. Eighteen months or so later, Ron Gilvin, who was elected Secretary - Treasurer, was suspended by the Executive Board, and later subject to a recall vote, and he was recalled. What happened there?
SI - Immediately after that election, Gilvin took the position that he was going to, at some point, take on Ed Fire. He was going to be, instead of being cooperative, he would take on Ed Fire. The record would show that the other members of the IUE Executive Board, and I believe the number was approximately 25 members of the Executive Board, of that 25, the majority supported Bill Bywater. The minority, a close minority, supported Ed Fire. But immediately after that election, that Executive Board all came together. So that meant that all the supporters of Ron Gilvin were part of the Fire team if you will, for the membership team. So Gilvin was by himself, and even though he was by himself, he was taking on positions which the entire Executive Board would vote, and it would be a vote of, he being a member of the Executive Board, 24-1, or something. And so he was constantly on the other side of this thing. Then he, at some point decided to do what Al Hartnett had done, which led to his demise, when Al Hartnett withdrew his facsimile signature on checks and said that he wanted to sign all checks personally, which he then couldn't do because of the value. So, where Gilvin was following the scenario of Al Hartnett, the Executive Board then followed the same scenario in removing him.
BG - How difficult, besides this, how difficult was it to repair the unity of the IUE after the Bywater - Fire, followed by the Gilvin situation?
SI - The rank and file knows when it gets involved in a fight, there's going to be a winner and a loser, and then it coalesces behind the winner, and that's exactly what happened in the Ed Fire election.
BG - In 1992 Districts Two from New England and your district, District Three, combined under your leadership. What brought about this type of consolidation and was a sign of things to come?
SI - Well, what we had, is we had six districts at that time, and three of those districts, District Two being one of them, were being subsidized heavily to stay in business by the International Union. The International Union, at the end of the election period, and one of the issues in the election was two million dollars of debt, and so it couldn't continue to subsidize and try to get out of that debt. And so, discussed with the leadership of the, in this case, District Two about early retirement benefits and what have you, and put forth an enhanced retirement package for the leadership if they would agree to voluntarily retire, so that these districts could merge together and save the International Union the money. And because of the size now that we all were, it made sense to do it, and that was the reason.
BG - Then, of course, there's the historic merger of the IUE with the CWA (Communications Workers of America) in the year 2000. What were the details of what brought this merger about? Did you support it? Was it done with an understanding that eventually IUE districts like yours would be absorbed into the existing CWA district structure?
SI - Yes, a) I supported it, b) it was a process that took about a year and a half. We interviewed the Steel Workers, we interviewed the IAM, the Machinists Union, we talked to the UAW. I've always had a very close relationship with Morton Bahr, who is now retired from the CWA, comes out of New York, was the formal leader of District One, the leader of District One of the CWA, so I knew him. He served on the New York State AFL- CIO at the same time I did, the fact is that we sat along side each other and supported the same positions and had the same kind of philosophy towards the labor movement, and so I was very enthusiastic about going into the CWA. Other members, part of our little team of trying to find out where was the best fit, was supporting the Mine Workers, on the theory that the Mine Workers had a great deal of money and a small membership. We had no money and a larger membership, maybe it was a better fit. I thought it was a better fit in the CWA and it did work out. Part of the merger agreement was to at some point not have two unions under one umbrella, but to form one union, and the way to form one union was to, at some point, have the IUE districts merge in with the CWA districts, and so yes, I was part of that and agreed to it.
BG - Reading some of your editorials that you wrote from that time period, I sensed a huge degree of frustration from you regarding the national election of 2000, how the election was decided, you know between George Bush and Bill Clinton (Interviewer's note: this election was between George W. Bush and Al Gore, and the interviewer corrects this statement below), and even how Bill Clinton left town, I think your quote was, "Pardoning everybody except John Gotti." Is frustration at this point an accurate assessment?
SI - Let's see, now that would be the election where Clinton leaves and George W. Bush becomes President,
BG - And he ran against Al Gore, I'm sorry.
SI - First of all, there's no question in my mind that the "activities" of Bill Clinton in the Oval Office, the NAFTA agreement and what have you, led to the demise of the Al Gore election, which led to a war in Iraq, and probably, in my humble opinion, the worst President we've ever had. And I think history will show that these eight years have been a waste of progress for this country, and so had Clinton not did what he did in the Oval Office, and with the NAFTA agreement, he was forgiven for that, he could have moved on from that, I believe Al Gore would have won that election. I think with a Gore presidency, we would have never been involved in Iraq, we would have never been involved in some of the things that we're involved with right now, some of the programs that are being pushed by this Administration on human and civil rights in this country, on the Supreme Court nominations, this country is going to pay a price for it for the next thirty to forty years. So this isn't a question of, well, he'll leave in three years, this is a question of he'll leave in three years but he'll leave a mess that's going to stink up the landscape for years to come. Yes, I was frustrated then, and I'm angry now!
BG - So, District Three merged into CWA District One in mid-2003, effectively putting an end to your District presidency. Did you immediately retire? Or, did you stay on in an advisory capacity for any period of time?
SI - My term of office ended in June of that year, 2003. I stayed on as a special assistant to the CWA President, to continue to assist in the merger between the two unions, and then retired December 31st of 2003.
BG - A few general questions, to wrap up our interview here. Running District Three was and had to be very hard work. Yet, from going through the Leaders, the papers, and a bunch of photos that I have from your files, I expected to at times see the caption, "Sal Ingrassia, Rock Star!" Tell us about the good times and the most rewarding times of being District Three President.
SI - I had a good time running that District. I had a good time even when it was rough. I didn't mind the hours. I did not mind sitting in negotiations for two or three days in a row. Was it frustrating when we didn't get what we wanted? Obviously, but I enjoyed being with people. I enjoyed the job. I thought I brought to the job the skills that were necessary to get it done. And I was confident that I could get things done. I really, really enjoyed being President of the District, and if I could do it over again, I would do it over again.
BG - On the other hand, what were the most difficult moments, difficult times when you wished you weren't the District President?
SI - I think losing a campaign, an organizing drive, that you spent six months at, that you've poured in good dues money, and then lose it in a close election, or lose it in a tie vote. With all that that loss meant. It meant that you couldn't go on to the next plant and say, "look what we did over here." You didn't get a chance to go into the negotiations and bring new leadership into the union. It meant a lot. It meant more than just losing. I think that that's why organizing is the toughest job in the labor movement. Its because there is no second best. If you go into negotiations, you can have your best package on the table, and if your best package doesn't survive the negotiations but your second best does, you're still a winner, because you're coming out with more than you went in. But when you go into an organizing drive and you lose in a tie vote, and that's what you do, there is nothing for second best. You are out, you are done, its like you never were there. That wears on organizers over a good number of years, and that's why, in my opinion, it's a young person's business. And that's why sometimes I recommended to Bill Bywater that special compensations be made for organizers. I like what the Teamsters do. The Teamsters, when they organize, they share the first year's income with the organizer who brought the plant in. There's a bonus system, so there's incentive, and you've got people there saying, "hey, its about time that I get involved in some of that organizing," rather than in the Industrial Unions where we don't do that, by people saying, "when are you going to put me on servicing?"
BG - Finally, I wish I could see a copy today of Sal's News You Can Use (interviewers note: this was a newsletter that Sal Ingrassia sent to his membership with his updates and views) because I would greatly enjoy hearing your views on today's world, which we have heard from time to time during this interview. Today's politics, today's realities. One such story out there right now is the recent AFL-CIO split. It seems that the major issues going against each other is political action versus organizing. How do you fall on this issue today?
SI - I think that that is for the consumption of the outside world. I think the inner struggle is always politics. Politics is what makes the world go around. It's what makes our country go around, It's the same thing in every large organization, whether you work for a large company, or a college, or a trade union, there's internal politics, there's agreements and disagreements, and I believe that the disagreement here was that one of the two large unions who led the break away wanted a position on the AFL-CIO. If someone had asked me, I would have said, "give it to them, rather than go through what we're going through because nothing is worth this." I believe that shortly it'll be put back together again, shortly being the next few years, because it really doesn't make any sense to have it split. Whether you're organizing, you can't organize unless you get some legislative activity going, and you're not going to get legislative activity going unless you change this country. And the only way you can do that is by having unity and muscle and you've got to stay the course, and you've got to, you can't hope for the best, you've got to work for the best. So, I would think that, if I could urge anybody, I would urge for them all to get back together again. I would urge the leadership of the AFL-CIO open up something. Give these ideas a chance, or adopt these ideas, and move forward, because I think you can do both, and one depends on the other, so you've got to do both. I don't see a great deal of organizing going on just because you're throwing money at it. By the way, the CWA, my union now, has just organized, maybe 20,000 people, 25,000 people, and they way they did it is that they were able to negotiate "card check." When you have card check in this country, card check meaning, for the sake of anyone whose listening to us, that if the union can prove that I represent the majority of the people, you the company will recognize me as the bargaining agent, rather than forcing me to go through an (NLRB) election where the battle is going to take place for the next five years, that's what took place in Cingular, and that's why the 25,000 people have joined the CWA. I believe people would flock to unions if given the same opportunity.
BG - Sal, I've asked you a lot, and you've provided a lot of answers. Is there anything that I missed that you'd like to convey to future listeners and readers of this transcript before we close today?
SI - I would urge anybody who gets involved with looking at this kind of material and looking at it and trying to decide what does it really mean, I think that you need to understand that this country is moving in a way to eliminate unions, trade unions, effective trade unions. I think there is something in us that will always want to have a labor movement but we want one that's ineffective, not one that can make noise and disrupt, which the labor movement was born to do. So I would ask anybody who's evaluating all of this, and who's evaluating their own careers or evaluating what their thoughts are is to remember that this country needs a viable labor movement if you're going to continue with the benefits and the programs that we have in our country.
BG - Sal, again, its been a privilege having you here today, and I want to thank you, on behalf of not only myself but from Rutgers University for giving us this opportunity to speak with you.
SI - Bob, I appreciate this opportunity. Thank you my friend.