Imagine being one of 10,000 people applying for 1,000 jobs. Imagine passing a five-hour written test, an eight-hour manual dexterity and physical ability test, a background check, a medical exam and a grueling interview. Imagine abruptly quitting your current job because the DaimlerChrysler Corporation has informed you that you must report for work immediately—you are one of “the chosen few.”
This was the scenario earlier this year for hundreds of workers in Belvidere, Ill., buoyant at the good fortune of getting a job in auto. Their exhilaration was tempered, to say the least, the day of their orientation. There they were informed that they were being hired as “Enhanced Temporary Employees” (ETEs).
An ETE is paid two-thirds the wage of a permanent hourly production worker. An ETE gets no raises, has no dental or vision coverage, no pension credits and no sick pay. There is no health insurance for eight months, and then it is not the same as that of a permanent, UAW-represented employee.
When ETEs are laid off, they cannot receive supplemental unemployment benefits or be placed in the jobs bank; they have no recall rights; if they work fewer than 40 hours they do not receive short work pay. They have no seniority rights and almost no access to the grievance procedure—and they can be fired for the slightest infraction.
Sexual harassment is rampant; women who complain have been fired. Injuries are commonplace, but injured workers have not been able to collect workers’ compensation, nor can they collect unemployment because they are unable to work. Workers have literally collapsed while working the lines.
The most logical conclusion would be, “They ought to form a union.” Sadly, they are already in a union. They were trapped in a web of deception spun by the DaimlerChrysler Corporation (DCX) with the cooperation of the governor of Illinois and the leadership of the United Auto Workers.
Much media fanfare accompanied the 2005 announcement by DCX that they would be adding 1,000 jobs at the Belvidere assembly plant, with the launch of the Dodge Caliber.
The launch had a hefty price tag—$416 million to retool Belvidere Assembly for the new model. The cost to DCX was reduced by nearly 25 percent with close to $100 million in state “opportunity returns grants.” For 11 months the well-kept secret, never disclosed to future workers nor publicized in the media, was that the burden of further cost reductions would be borne by “the chosen few.”
“Nothing in the contract applies to us,” Kathy Hungness—one of the 800 or so who were actually hired as ETEs—told Workers World. Hired in June and kept in the dark about her temporary status until the last minute, she was terminated in October.
She’s not alone. Some 250 workers have been terminated so far, recently 50 in just one week. They can apply for unemployment, but so far none have seen a check, and they cannot apply for emergency public assistance until their status with unemployment is clarified. They cannot go back to the jobs they gave up, and jobs are hard to find. “We have families to feed,” stated Hungness. “They’re throwing us away.”
Hungness is not just fired, however. She’s fired up and has organized rank-and-file ETEs into the group Enhanced Fight.
Now 150 have joined Hungness in a class-action lawsuit against DCX and the UAW, and more are joining every day. The first organizing meeting of Enhanced Fight was a huge success, with many volunteering for fundraising, membership, phone tree and community-action committees. They hope to have a public protest sometime in the future.
Hungness had a message for this writer, who is a 19-year DCX employee in Twinsburg, Ohio: “If we don’t stand up for our rights that were broken here, this will come to you. Enough of concessions, enough, enough!”
Messages of support for Enhanced Fight can be sent to Sister Hungness at email@example.com.
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