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Spotlight on Committees: Education Committees Connect the Dots

Sessions, like this one, are designed to educate members about their roles as UAW members and as members of their community.

Local 249’s Shawn Scanlon reads to neighborhood kids in his spare time. “When I read with a child my heart feels happy,” Scanlon says.

For Scanlon, it doesn’t get any better than that. And there’s the added benefit of knowing he’s doing it as a Local 249 Education Committee co-chair volunteering his time to the Greater Kansas Area YMCA’s Raise A Reader program for childhood literacy.

Third-generation UAW member Brian Jones, left, helps coordinate many of the sessions as Local 249’s Education Committee co-chair.

Along with co-chair Bryan Jones, Scanlon helps run one of the UAW’s most active local education committees at Local 249 in Pleasant Valley, Missouri, where 7,200 members make F-150’s and Transit vans at Ford Motor Co.’s Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Missouri. He’s worked in the Transit trim department for four years. When the Education Committee expanded to 20 members, Scanlon was one of the workers tapped as co-chair. He coordinates community outreach activities while Jones focuses on member education classes on union history, rights and responsibilities of union membership, how collective bargaining works, standing committees and opportunities for community volunteering. Afterward, leadership talks with members about working on a social justice standing committee. What they learn first is union history, says Local 249 President Jason Starr. “Newer members have less formal education about unions these days and don’t have a grasp of what it took to get where we are and how to maintain collective bargaining. When they learn the history and then the challenges unions face today, you see them come to life and get an understanding of what we’re up against. We also talk about their expectations about what collective bargaining can and should achieve for them and what they’re competing against globally. Too often our members blame the UAW for what’s going on in the world. A lot of folks don’t understand that the UAW represents more than auto workers. We have a responsibility to educate our members.”

Starr says the committee has put in long hours focused on educating members about their role in their local, what it means to be a UAW member in the U.S. today, and why we’re not always winning at the bargaining table for our members. It’s needed. “A lot of working-class Americans don’t participate at levels we need for our political and social movements. We must be engaged externally and not just within our local. We must build power in every avenue of society. We have to take ownership,” he said.

Local 249 Education Committee Co-Chair Shawn Scanlon (center, gray shirt) and committee members assemble reading kits for the Greater Kansas City YMCA’s Raise A Reader childhood literacy program.

Jones helps coordinate the sessions. While members learn he is thankful to reclaim his enthusiasm for being a part of something bigger than his paycheck, Jones’ enthusiasm for community service had dwindled when the auto crisis forced him to move to a Ford plant that was 220 miles away.

“The hardest part was leaving my friends and family in St. Louis and moving to Kansas City to do transit stamping and knowing no one. I thought I wouldn’t be involved anymore but folks recruited me. I realized I still wanted to give back for what was given to me,” said Jones, a third-generation UAW member. “After about a year I got to know some people and my alternate committee man got me involved again.” Since then Jones hasn’t looked back, sharing his 25 years of experience with younger members who haven’t heard the stories about the sacrifices UAW members have made. “I was educated by the generation before me and I feel it’s my duty to educate members.” He says the basics are important to teach like grievance procedures, time off, ergonomics, health and safety, collective bargaining and similar topics, but so are big picture issues like national and local contract issues and political topics such as right to work.

Scanlon was one of many Local 249 members who delivered turkeys to needy families.

The committee teaches local groups such as the Kansas City area Boy Scouts. Several dozen come to the union hall to earn a merit badge for learning about labor and company relationships. Members distribute $10,000 in Charlie Sussridge College Scholarship funds to junior and senior children of Local 249 members to help pay for higher education. Sussridge is the former chairperson of the committee.

“The UAW has always been about not only members but their communities,” said UAW President Dennis Williams. “Education committees are crucial in ensuring members know the history of the UAW, what it means to be UAW today in the workplace, how it ties in with what happens to your neighbors, and then taking action.”

Co-chair Scanlon says a lot of people aren’t taught to connect those dots, so the committee tries to do that for them. He was lucky to grow up in a big family where his parents reminded their children to give back to the community. “Their heroes were John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Their pictures were hung in our house and we were taught to give back. This committee work in the community like the Raise A Reader program fits right into that,” said Scanlon. In addition to reading help, Scanlon assists with meal preparation for the kids, builds book bags, and does other tasks to make their lives better. “This is the foundation of the UAW, helping others. To this day the UAW is doing that with a legacy dating back to Walter Reuther helping the civil rights movement. It’s the duty of every union member to remember that and to build on that legacy. Now is the time for us more than ever. We’re being attacked from so many places and getting out in the community after working a 12-hour-shift only helps to show the UAW in a better light,” said Scanlon.

Region 5 Director Gary Jones says he’s proud of the example Local 249’s hard work sets for the UAW. “If union members don’t know about the battles we won on behalf of union members today, it’s up to us to educate those members and set them on a course of action that focuses not only on gains at the bargaining table but assisting local communities. It’s the UAW way and always has been. It’s what we’re about,” said Jones.

Joan Silvi

Distribution channels: Automotive Industry