25. THE STRUGGLE INTENSIFIES
The UWUA suffered a major setback in March of 1949. Superior Court Judge Milton Shapiro ruled that PG&E workers who had switched to the IBEW should not be required to pay dues to their former union, the UWUA, through a dues checkoff. He ruled that, because the contract had expired, doubt now existed about who the legitimate bargaining representative was.
In April, the NLRB hearings on the make-up of the bargaining unit were coming to a close and Local 1324 believed that a representation election would soon be scheduled. But as spring turned to summer there was still no word from the NLRB.
However, Local 1324 was making progress on another front. In July, the Executive Board of Local 1245 pledged its support for one union on the system.” Of course both Local 1245 and 1324 were under International supervision, and were expected to cooperate in the organizing drive. The issue of whether and when–and how–to amalgamate the two unions was left to another day. In August the two locals met in Belmont and Santa Rosa, the first of many such joint meetings.
Meanwhile, the battle between Local 1324 and the UWUA for the hearts and minds of PG&E workers in the Bay Area continued. Ron Weakley remembers what union meetings were like during this period:
Of course there was a lot of arguing at meetings of both groups–the Utility Workers and 1324–about how we should proceed. We’d go to the meetings and debate and harangue about getting one union on the system, and how the Utility Workers weren’t serving the people and so forth. The UWUA barred some of us, but quite often we’d get in. There was very little violence. We had a little shoving around and a few challenges, but as far as any major bloodying of people, there was none of that. PG&E workers were a fairly conservative bunch anyway and they weren’t prone to that kind of waterfront battling.”
26. ‘SOME OF THE PEOPLE GOT A LITTLE MAD’
Although Weakley had become a prime mover in the union drive, he was not always center stage. He had a knack for tapping the talents of others. One such person was Gene Hastings. When Hastings, as a new PG&E employee in 1945, complained about contract provisions relating to returning veterans, Weakley immediately made a motion to have Hastings appointed to head up a veterans committee. It was an application of the old mining camp principle: If you complain about the grub, next time you get to cook.”
Hastings quickly proved that he was ready for responsibility. Union was in his blood:
Where I got my start was in the United Mine Workers, which is a good place to start. My father was a coal miner. When I was in junior high school in 1935 my father came home from a picket line: they were on strike. He told me how the sheriff and his deputies escorted the scabs through the picket line. They were shaking the scabs down to make sure they didn’t have any guns. My father said you could see the outline of the gun in one scab’s pocket. Hearing that was pretty impressive for a junior high school kid.
He also told me about the superintendent driving his car through the line. He gunned it up and the coal miners just split, and he didn’t hit any of them. After a couple days of that, the third time that he speeded up his automobile and they all split apart, well, there was a great big tree laying in the road. He smacked the tree–was in the hospital. Those were the days when the coal miners used to strike every year.”
Hastings says it was Weakley who eventually talked him into running for president of UWUA Local 169 in Contra Costa County. It was an interesting position to be in during the cross-over. The national UWUA was trying to persuade the local membership to dump any officers who supported switching to the IBEW. In Contra Costa County, where the membership was determined to leave the UWUA, these arguments had little effect. But in other areas, the members were more evenly divided. Hastings recalls taking a trip to a UWUA meeting in Napa with Ed White to promote the cross-over to the IBEW:
It was a little different story up in Napa. We wanted to give our presentation as far as to why we were going into the IBEW. Their theme song was that they don’t want to know; they’re satisfied with the CIO. They were not going to let us, if they could help it, convince anybody that this was the thing to do. I was real glad that I had old six-foot three-inch tall Ed White alongside of me because there were some of the people got a little bit mad.”
Like Weakley and Hardie, Hastings was a victim of red-baiting:
We were called communists, the whole bit. Of course nobody could prove it. But this was one of the ploys that the CIO used, to call a fellow communist. The CIO was going to lose 5,000 members–they’d call you anything.”
By autumn of 1949 IBEW had made significant progress in organizing the North Bay. The NLRB was still silent on when it would schedule an election. And Local 1324 still had no contract and no representation rights on PG&E. All it had to offer was the dream of one union on the system.” Some began to wonder privately how long this movement could survive on nothing but a dream.
27. LAYOFFS CREATE CRISIS FOR UWUA
In September, a round of layoffs at PG&E created a crisis for the UWUA. With many of its best leaders gone over to the IBEW, the UWUA was unable to react decisively to the layoffs. The UWUA leadership outlined the following plan of action, as recounted in a UWUA newsletter:
Your Negotiating Committee met with company representatives on Tuesday, September 6th to gather information as to the reason for the lay-offs at this time, just what employees are to be affected, the numerical number to be laid-off, and interpretation of the contractual rules that govern if, and when layoffs cannot be avoided. At this time your committee is passing the information on to the membership for their discussion, consideration and development of a course of action.”
The IBEW took the UWUA apart over this issue, particularly the notion that the leadership had to go to the members to figure out a course of action. What are leaders for, the IBEW wanted to know, if not to come up with a course of action?
Either the contract has a seniority clause or it does not have one,” the IBEW declared in its weekly newsletter in September. If it has one it’s up to the UWUA leadership to enforce it as part of the contract approved previously by the employees.” In October the IBEW continued to press the issue. The IBEW newsletter accused the UWUA leadership of pushing through the contract at the beginning of the year without adequate input from the members, and then asking the members to enforce that contract.
We always thought the membership approved the contract and the officials policed and enforced it,” observed the IBEW.
28. IBEW LAYS OUT ECONOMIC PROGRAM
But the IBEW campaign was not limited to criticizing the UWUA. The IBEW organizers had a program they wanted to see implemented at PG&E to benefit the workers and in October, still awaiting word from the NLRB about an election date, they published An Economic Program for Bay Division Employees.” Among its provisions were: a business manager and full time representatives to represent the members; wage increases across the board, and a study of inequities and job reclassifications; adequate pension with joint administration; improved hospitalization and health plan; uniform grievance machinery for the entire system; a joint apprentice training program; improved arbitration machinery; complete organization of clerical workers; a joint job bidding committee to determine job awards; and stronger seniority guarantees.
It was a manifesto that detailed all the hopes that were wrapped up in the slogan one union on the system.” But still there was no election date. On November 5, 1949, Local 1324 published an open letter to the NLRB in its newsletter:
It is more than 10 months since the IBEW first petitioned for an election. The average jury can reach a decision in a few weeks. Any further delay must certainly be construed by IBEW members as out and out Board sympathy for union breaking. The IBEW wants nothing from the NLRB except a simple decision on the election. After 10 months it is certainly entitled to that.”
On November 29, the IBEW got its answer. The NLRB ordered an election for physical employees and rejected the company’s bid to exclude 1675 employees in 51 classifications from the bargaining unit. Even so-called professional and technical employees were included. The NLRB rejected pleas from the company and from the UWUA to break down the bargaining units by division: it would be one election on the whole system.