The results of a hotly contested election for the presidency of the largest United Auto Workers local in California remained in doubt Friday, raising the prospect of further labor turmoil for Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach.
Douglas, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas Corp., was anxiously awaiting the results of the election. The company has been involved in a protracted struggle with the union for several months, which has had a serious effect on its production of airplanes.
Balloting by the 9,500-member UAW Local 148 was conducted Tuesday and counting began Wednesday. Late Friday, the local's election committee decided to recount the ballots because doubt had been cast on the initial tally, according to union sources. The recount was tentatively set to begin today.
Incumbent Bob Berghoff led the field of three candidates for local president with 3,946 votes (48.8%) of 8,079 unchallenged ballots in the first count, just shy of the majority he would need to win. His principal opponent, Doug Griffith, had 2,811 votes and Jean Gregory trailed with 1,322. There also were 556 challenged ballots.
For months, Berghoff has advocated a strategy in which union members work at a slower pace than normal to protest the company's imposition of contract changes that the UAW considers undesirable. The strategy seems to have worked.
Late last week, the company's two top officials sent a letter to all hourly employees warning them that the company is "in a frightening position" because of delayed airline deliveries. The letter, signed by James E. Worsham, corporate vice president of the McDonnell Douglas aerospace group, and William Gross, Douglas Aircraft president, said the company faced possible lost orders and, as a consequence, lost jobs.
"As of the end of April, we were 10 MD-80s behind our customers' contract delivery schedules," the letter said. "This could grow to 55 by the end of 1987. . . . We must get (the company) back on track. There are some who don't agree with us. In fact, they are asking employees to slow down work efforts."
Such a letter from corporate officials on the eve of a union election is considered highly unusual. But Douglas spokesman Dave Eastman said the timing was coincidental. "The letter is an attempt to inform all our employees of the situation we're facing," Eastman said, but Berghoff maintained that it is one of many company efforts designed to sway workers to vote against him.
Additionally, a letter explicitly criticizing Berghoff was sent to all members of the local by Bruce Lee, western regional director of the UAW. The two men have frequently clashed in the past.
The contract between the union and the company expired last October. Local 148 rejected two company offers. After the second rejection, Douglas declared an impasse and imposed new working conditions.
Changes in Benefits a Concern
Primarily, union members object to the fact that they now have to make weekly contributions for insurance premiums that used to be company-paid. They also are opposed to changes in insurance deductibles and modifications of work rules that permit the company to assign workers to jobs outside their normal classifications.
Berghoff has distributed several thousand copies of a recently published AFL-CIO manual on how union members can achieve their goals in a tough contract situation without striking. (Local 148 waged a 17-week strike against Douglas in 1983-84; it ended with the union accepting wage and work rule concessions.) The manual, entitled "The Inside Game: Winning With Workplace Strategies," instructs workers to "do only what you were hired to do, what you are absolutely required to, nothing more, nothing less."
Griffith was the union's bargaining committee chairman during the last strike and was Berghoff's ally. But he subsequently became a critic and has campaigned for the $34,846-a-year president's job on a "New Horizons" platform. He contends that Berghoff's six-year term has been characterized by "constant chaos" and that his foe's current strategy has put the union "on a course to disaster."
Berghoff has retorted that Griffith has become a tool of the international and was removed as bargaining committee chairman last year "because he no longer could be trusted to negotiate in the members' best interest."