My name is Frank Brown. I joined the United Auto Workers on May 3, 1949, a day I well remember.
I have always known the importance of unions from my father and mother, and grandfather, Frank Hanton Morris, a business agent with the Iron Workers Union in 1904.
Starting in 1936, when I was just a youngster, I remember pulling my wagon about a mile to help feed the striking General Motors workers at the St. Louis Auto plant. My mother walked with me, carefully holding a pot of beans to serve to the striking workers.
The famous 1936–1937 sit-down strike against General Motors that began in Flint, Michigan, changed the United Automobile Workers from a collection of isolated locals on the fringes of the industry into a major Labor Union that led to the unionization of the domestic United States automobile industry.
When I started working in the auto plant in 1949, I worked the night shift for nine hours a day, six days a week. At the time, there was no “relief.” The line was set to run 60 cars an hour. In order to keep up, you had to work ahead of schedule just so you could run to the restroom or be required to use a trashcan.
In 1952, our contract afforded me a raise, from $1.565 cents an hour, and we got a six-minute “Relief Period” in the morning and afternoon. On the next contract, we received an 18-minute “Relief Period” in the morning and afternoon.
I worked for 30 years and was proud to pay my union dues because of the benefits the union won for me.
When I first hired in, I had to pay for my gloves, any tools that I needed, insurance, work clothes and just about everything else. Later, the union fought and won in the next two or three contracts, and paid for my medical insurance, work clothes, gloves and tools.
I have now belonged to the United Auto Workers for 70 years –– 30 while working and 40 years of retirement — and counting. I am still paying my union dues and proud of it!
FRANK M. BROWN