It seemed more like a swanky brunch than a legally-required business meeting with black-suited corporate types greeting friends and nibbling on a spread of pastries while waiters scurried to clear plates and glasses.
But it was actually the annual shareholder meeting for GATX, owner of American Steamship, a Chicago-based corporation that has refused for more than two years to offer a fair contract to Steelworkers in ) Local 5000. GATX even replaced our members and now those replacements are trying to decertify the unit.
So members of Local 500 weren’t there to munch pastries and schmooze with the industry elites. Armed with proxy shares from union pension funds, we were there on a mission to raise issues and question the company executives. And that’s what we did.
GATX CEO Brian Kenney looked flustered when our hands shot up during the question and answer session. Not used to being questioned, maybe?
We asked whether Kenney felt it was a good use of shareholder money to maintain a lengthy labor dispute while paying replacement workers significantly more than our members. And we asked why his company is letting three ships sit idle – at large cost for docking and maintenance – even as Kenney acknowledged strong demand and his competitors run at full capacity.
His answers were short and evasive. He claimed the idle boats are older and less efficient, but we pointed out that other companies are using similar ships. Even though we’ve got documentation showing GATX paid replacements more, Kenney disagreed with the premise of our wage question and quickly adjourned the meeting.
As he hurried out of the room, he smiled and shook hands with other attendees. He gave us a glare as he speed-walked past us and out the door.
Bosses question and challenge our members every day. This time, the shoe was on the other foot: Executives need to learn that accountability is a two-way street, and Steelworkers are happy to help teach that lesson. Unlike Brian Kenney, we walked out of the meeting with our heads held high.
David Sagers, President USW Local 500, left,
Thomas Lind, Member, right
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Posted May 2, 2012 at 8:00 am, in Free Speech Zone