UAW Local 645 was formed at North American Aviation in Grand Prairie in 1943. Among its members were W.A. "Dub" Harrod and Francisco "Pancho" Medrano. After WWII, a new aircraft production company was organized on the eastern side of the old North American Aircraft facility in Grand Prairie.
Old timers can remember moving government materials from the west to the east side so that they could be claimed by the new Temco corporation. The company made household appliances and anything else they could get. Later on they remodeled airplanes and, finally, began making new planes.
The new union was Local 390. The war was over and the union was changing. Walter P. Reuther was elected head of the UAW-CIO in 1946. He would be its president until his death. American unions were extremely strong as they demanded the wages they had foregone as part of the war effort. Strikes and other union activities were more numerous in 1947 in America than they ever were before or since.
The archives at UAW Local 848 have very little mention of Temco or Local 390. It has been speculated that the company founder, Robert McCullough allowed the union in and avoided any dramatic fights. Retirees really loved McCullough. He lived into the mid-1990s.
Many former North American workers came back to work at Temco. Retirees active in the 1990s, Dorothy Reid, Kathryn Thomas, Pancho Medrano, and M.A. "Ma" Farris were among them.
Ma Farris was a champion organizer. If a union local can be said to have a mother, then Ma Farris was ours. By all accounts, this petite woman signed up thousands of members to our union! Her great contribution was to be the hardest working, steadiest, most relentless union builder that the Local ever knew. Before work, after work, during every break, and through lunches, sister Farris walked the aisles talking to workers. She carried union cards with her everywhere she went. She never sat down, but ate her sandwich while she walked. At the next break, she would come back to exactly the same place she had left off before then continue asking aerospace employees, "Are you in the union yet?"
Medrano also recalls that Farris was also active in fighting for the rights of minorities. When the union threw itself into stopping the poll taxes, Farris was always on the front lines. "She was for anything, everything the union did!" Medrano testifies.
Collecting poll taxes so that union members would be able to vote was a major task in UAW-CIO Local 390. Poll taxes were not done away with until November 9th, 1963.
The situation for unions in America changed dramatically during and after the strike wave of 1947. The nation went on an anti-worker rampage. The anti-union Taft Hartley law was vetoed by President Truman, but passed by Congress over his veto. Among its objectionable features was a section empowering states to misname themselves "right to work" states. Unions in those states lost the right to declare a closed union shop. With unions thus weakened, wages and working conditions became a disgrace in those states. Texas was one of the first to take advantage of the Taft Hartley provisions.
Actually, Texas was "Right to work (scab)" before Taft Hartley legalized it. The phrase was actually invented by a Dallas Morning News editor.
It got so crazy in the Texas Legislature in 1947 that one Congressman made a (joking?) proposal that would have abolished unions, confiscated union members' property, sent their families to concentration camps, and lined up all union members against a wall and had them shot! Eight Texas legislators voted for it.
Three separate reasons have been given as to why Chance Vought Aircraft Company moved to Grand Prairie from Connecticut. The Company says they needed longer runways to develop jet aircraft. Others say that the government asked them to move out of an area where military industries were highly concentrated in case of another war. Union leaders assert that Chance Vought came to Grand Prairie because the Chamber of Commerce assured them that they could avoid having a union to deal with.
Howard Smolleck remembers coming to Grand Prairie with the company. He believes they moved in order to find cheap labor. He recalls that most of the workers they brought down from Connecticut had little interest in unions. Smolleck remembers being threatened with firing if he talked union at Chance Vought. Nevertheless, he stood at the front gate to hand out union fliers.
Even in that climate, the union organizers were able to collect enough membership cards and enough petitions to get an NLRB election called. The vote pitting UAW-CIO against IAM-AFL, IBEW-AFL and "no union" on August 3, 1949, came out a resounding victory for our side and UAW-CIO Local 893 was formed. The electricians got their IBEW craft union, but the IAM lost out entirely.
The membership cheerfully turned down the company's first contract proposal by a unanimous hand vote, then went on with the kind of hard struggle that characterized their entire union existence.
Even though there were few African Americans working in the plant, they were always more numerous in the union. A February, 1943, newspaper article describes a meeting of the AFL-CIO featuring International President R.J. Thomas: "About 100 persons attended the afternoon meeting, including about twenty-five Negroes," it says.
Union meetings were never segregated, but virtually everything in the workplace was. Pancho Medrano remembers that virtually all African Americans were confined to working in restroom cleaning, but as World War II went on and the manpower shortage became more acute, some of them were placed in sand blasting or in paint stripping. These were among the most dangerous and undesirable jobs.
All Blacks had to use tin cups by the water fountains rather than use the water fountain itself as whites did. The cups were inscribed: "Colored". The company did nothing to discourage violence against Blacks, according to Medrano.
Sam Brown, who many years later would serve as Co-Chairman of the Retirees' Local, worked in the stripping pit. They toted heavy airplane parts in. Paint was removed with strong chemicals that put fumes all over the workplace. As Sam remembers it, every African American that came to work at Temco was immediately asked to join the union. As far as Sam knows, every one did.
In 1951, after Vought had moved to Grand Prairie and been organized by the UAW, Local 893 President Charley Scott decided to appoint his good friend Herschel Matthews, an outstanding African American union activist, into a vacant steward spot. According to Johnny Walsh, one of the members of the grievance committee threatened him with a gun, but Scott did it anyway. The color line for union officers was broken finally and completely!
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