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For Ron Baug it was never the increases in wages or amount of vacation time that gave relevance and meaning to his job as President of UAW Local 1097. Instead it was the opportunity to bring a sense of dignity to working people that drew him to the work. By adhering to a set of personal principles revolving around the concept of “giving credit where credit is due,” Baug was able to amplify the voice of workers in business decisions, as well as to bring substantial benefits to auto workers in Rochester.
From an early age Ron Baug understood the importance of unions to working families. His father began working at General Motors (GM) in 1936, and Ron would frequently attend family picnics and other union functions. At the family dinner table conversation “always revolved around two subjects: religion and organized labor.” With devout Catholic grandparents and a father in the union, Ron learned to understand the benefits of hard work and dedication, as well as to appreciate the importance of unions to protect the values of working people.
Ron decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and began working as a skilled tradesman for GM in September of 1962. As he began attending union meetings, he learned of injustices in the workplace, and began to understand more fully his father’s dedication and appreciation for the union. In 1971 Baug was encouraged to become involved with the union. As union secretary, benefits rep and, in 1978, as President, Baug made substantial headway for the union during a time when local employment for GM was consistently on the rise (from 2300 hourly employees in 1962 to 5400 in 1983). Ron’s success as union President is evident from his reelection to the post five times before leaving in June of 1994 to work with the International Union, from which he retired in 2003.
Ron’s approach to the union was one of good faith equitable bargaining. Regardless of his position within the union, his goal was always “to get a fair deal: fair pay for fair work.” In handling grievances as a committee man, and administering pensions and health care plans as a benefits rep, Ron always worked to gain an equitable settlement as well as to maintain the dignity and respect of working people. During Baug’s time with the union wages rose substantially, pension plans were improved, and workplace safety was drastically improved. (Ironically, GM would later cite the cost of these very gains as an excuse to move operations to other countries.) Despite the significant gains, Ron never for a moment felt that the union had overstepped what was fair. Regarding negotiating with management Baug holds that “they never gave away anything, the workers earned it.”
As union membership at the national level declines and the auto industry faces its own set of problems, Baug explains most of the decline in organized labor with one word: “Greed.” Greed on the part of management has led to poor employment practices, which have had a devastating effect on the American worker. However Baug points equally to greed and complacency on the part of the American worker as causes for declining union numbers. As workers begin to see unions as service organizations designed to increase wages instead of as representative organizations intended to bring respect and dignity to the American working class, unions are losing their ability to achieve either of these ends.
What will it take in the future to revitalize the American labor movement? Baug believes that although it may not happen quickly, American working people must eventually regain their once-present desire for dignity and respect and that this passion will have the potential to revitalize the labor movement. Although this shift in thinking will not be spontaneous, Baug offers a simple solution for union leaders to bring about this change: “Those who fail in organized labor are in it for themselves, to make their own situation better. The key is, you have to be in it for the people.”
Ron Baug has served as a prime example of these values applied in the workplace and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. By standing up for working people he has helped to restore equity to the employment relationship. In achieving this, Baug has contributed significantly to maintaining the respect and dignity of Rochester’s workers.