DSRA chief recants bash on union

DSRA chief recants bash on union


Posted: Thursday, November 12, 2009 1:00 am | Updated: .

By Patrick Munsey staff writer pmunsey@kokomoperspective.com

The head of the Delphi Salaried Retirees Association (DSRA) wants to set the record straight. Union workers aren’t the beer-drinking clock-punchers he made them out to be. They’re actually important to the production process. And the white-collar workers at Delphi were "dumb as stumps" for not organizing into a bargaining unit.

DSRA interim chairman Den Black contacted the Perspective last week, seeking an opportunity to retract the comments he made about the United Auto Workers (UAW) and International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE) published in the Oct. 21 edition. Inexplicably, he chose to disparage his fellow white-collar compatriots in the process.

"Of all the people who have been a salaried person with General Motors over the years, I am one of the least to ever have disrespect or anything other than admiration for the people I have supervised who have been with IUE and UAW," said Black. "I worked hand-in-hand with skilled trades people over the years, and I have said many times that some of the finest engineers I ever worked with were not called engineers. They were skilled trades people who ran rings around a lot of the engineers that came from the high-class schools that we hired."

In that Oct. 21 article, Black made a number of statements that were perceived negatively by local UAW leaders. And once Black read the article, he issued a statement to his membership, accusing the Perspective of publishing "misleading and inaccurate" information. In fact, he went so far as to deny ever speaking to the Perspective, despite having conducted two interviews with different reporters with the publication prior to last week.

In the interest of demonstrating that Black was not misrepresented in any way, the audio of his interview for the Oct. 21 article is available on

www.kokomoperspective.com. When DSRA was made aware of the existence of the audio, Black made contact to amend his earlier statements.

"I?am sorry," said Black. "I think I was misunderstood when we talked before, whenever that was. I talk to so many people that, quite frankly,?I forgot …

"I’m sorry I came across that way, but for me, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve been there and done that, and I know it takes all of us to get it done. All I was saying was to make the product, it has to start somewhere. Please, I hope you understand that it was an unfortunate misunderstanding."

Black explained that he started out as a member of the IUE while working for Frigidaire in Dayton, Ohio, and later as a superintendent with Delphi, he chose to work on the line with the production employees to better understand their jobs. He said that he made many friends who were production workers over the years because of his management style.

"I am the least adversarial person out of management that you could hardly ever find," said Black. "My idea was not to take anything away from anybody. I’m all for the union. In fact, we’re working now with the UAW?leadership who will potentially write a letter on our behalf, recognizing that our issue has been fairness and equity. We’ve not seen any of that in the eight months since this whole thing started.

"We know exactly who is driving this train, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with anyone in a bargaining a unit. If we had had any brains, I said long ago that it was the people in the bargaining units who were the smart people, and it was us salary and management people who were the village idiots. That lesson has been clearly pointed out to us now that we’re on the wrong side of the fence. We were as dumb as stumps, and we’re paying dearly for it."

As interim chairman of DSRA, Black is representing more than 15,000 former Delphi salaried workers in the fight to salvage some of the benefits that the company ripped from them in February. The salaried pension fund was terminated and turned over to the federal government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), and the retirees’ health-care benefits were ended.

The UAW?and IUE workers have received similar treatment from the company, though collective bargaining agreements and pro-active union leadership helped to lessen the severity. Now Black is actually hoping that DSRA might have some assistance to offer to the unions as everyone fights to save what little they have left in the aftermath of Delphi’s bankruptcy and reorganization. The IUE currently is struggling with the company over health-care benefits, and DSRA reached out last week to lend a hand.

"We’ve been to the school of hard knocks on that one over the past eight months, and we have a great deal of knowledge that could possibly be of some help," said Black. "They’re trying to find a solution, and anything we can do to help them is what we’re out to do. We’re kind of teaming up."

DSRA’s own battle is being fought on two fronts. The organization currently has attorneys representing them in Michigan’s federal district court, where arguments are being made concerning the manner in which Delphi terminated the salaried pension plan and alleged violations of ERISA. At the same time, the group has garnered the support of more than 50 members of Congress, hoping that political pressure might win the day.

"There are activities going on — litigation and congressional support — and it is more significant now than it has ever been," said Black. "We have growing momentum."

With so much going on to protect the former salaried workers, Black doesn’t want a fight with the unions to distract the focus of the organization. He closed by reiterating his contrition for speaking against the production workers.

"I hope that you’ll take my word," said Black. "I’m the last guy in the world to belittle any of those people. I understood who the important people were when I was a production superintendent, and they weren’t the plant managers or anybody up the chain of command. The important people were the people doing those jobs out on the floor.

"If they didn’t know how to do it, or didn’t want to do it, or couldn’t do it, that was my first priority. They made me or broke me. I understood they were the most important people in the whole shooting match. They were the ones who got the stuff together and did it right."

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