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UAW Leaders Beat Back Challenges by Dissidents

June 20, 1989|JAMES RISEN | Times Staff Writer

The leadership of the United Auto Workers asserted its authority on the second day of the union's convention in Anaheim on Monday and quashed the efforts of a growing dissident faction to alter the union's constitution.

Top union officers said their hard-line approach toward the dissidents in the first two days of the UAW convention at the Anaheim Convention Center shows that they have no plans to compromise with the fledgling opposition group.

"They have done damage to this union, and that is an unforgivable sin," said UAW Vice President Don Ephlin, director of the union's huge General Motors Department. "Why should we throw a bone to them?"

A spokesman for the international union said later that Ephlin's comments reflected the position of UAW President Owen Bieber and the rest of the union's leadership.

The group of internal dissidents, called New Directions, has sharp philosophical differences with the union's leadership.

The dissidents oppose the UAW's new willingness to cooperate more closely with management in the auto industry through Japanese-style "team-concept" labor agreements and other joint programs. They argue that such programs have led to speed-ups on assembly lines and heavier workloads, but have not provided the job security originally promised by management. They charge that the UAW's present leaders--unlike the union's legendary architect, Walter Reuther--have accepted the corporations' views on international competition, to the detriment of the membership.

But Bieber and other union leaders argue that labor-management programs are needed to remain competitive in the global marketplace, and they criticize the dissidents for failing to understand the harsh new competitive realities.

The dissident movement had hoped to use the six-day convention as a launching pad for a more organized opposition to the UAW leadership. The dissident leaders planned to challenge election results in several recent races for top union positions, and to force a debate on a range of issues facing the union.

But so far, the New Directions group has been soundly defeated at every turn.

On Monday, the dissidents were defeated in their attempt to change the UAW's constitution to call for the direct election of top union officers by the union's rank and file.

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