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Retired UAW "rebel" Opposed to Union's Stance on Gay Rights

The Flint Journal ^ | June 27, 2005 | Marjory Raymer

Posted on Free Republic  06/27/2005 4:48:18 PM PDT by AFA-Michigan

A former local UAW activist, known for his sometimes-maverick views and hard-line stance against General Motors, is among a handful of Michigan residents joining a drive to oppose the AFL-CIO's support of gay rights.

Michael Westfall, a retired truck driver and member of UAW Local 598, is one of three state residents who have signed a national petition organized by the socially conservative American Family Association. It urges the union to rescind its opposition to a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

"I really feel the leadership of the union, the top leadership, has really separated itself from the membership on the values issues," said Westfall, who retired in 1994 and now lives in Presque Isle in northern Michigan. "I think that the union leadership has become much too ultra-liberal."

Westfall, a self-described "rebel," was a prominent local figure in the 1980s, leading groups that fought GM appeals of its property tax assessments and opposed concessions by the UAW in its national contract with the automaker.

Through numerous columns and letters in local and national publications, he railed against outsourcing and the use of technology to reduce jobs, while advocating shorter work weeks and cost-of-living benefits for retirees. His work gained notice from people such as consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

Westfall, 59, now finds himself aligned with state Sen. Mike Goschka, R-Saginaw, and Gary Glenn, Michigan president of the American Family Association in signing the petition against the AFL-CIO.

The leader of the state AFL-CIO said the effort is less about gay rights than about a "right-wing" group's anti-union agenda.

"I'm not anti-union, but the union doesn't come first," Westfall said. "With Christians, Christ and the Bible come first."

The petition is part of an effort to raise awareness of the issue in advance of the AFL-CIO national convention in July, Glenn said. The AFA is encouraging union members to withhold dues and is offering legal assistance to anyone who wants to do so because of the AFL-CIO's stance on same-sex marriage.

"When (union members) are informed, I think they are going to respond strongly," Glenn said.

The executive council of the AFL-CIO passed the resolution supporting the "full inclusion and equal rights" of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers in March. It also attacks the marriage amendment supported by President Bush, saying the union does not support amending the U.S. Constitution to "discriminate against any group of people by denying them rights."

State AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney noted gay marriage is not really an issue in Michigan, since voters banned legal recognition of same-sex relationships in November. The union opposed that measure because of its infringements on collective bargaining agreements, he said.

"They are using the religious concerns of the members to sow dissension with their union," Gaffney said of the AFA petition. "We appreciate that our members have divergent views. We don't tell anybody how to live. We're just trying to get more jobs."


Quick take

For more on the issue:

To view the AFL-CIO executive council resolution:

To view the American Family Association petition: