Auto Union Backs Away From Abortion As Benefit
DETROIT — Duane Fredendall can rest a little easier. His union, the United Auto Workers, has dropped a controversial proposal to add elective abortions as an employee health benefit, it was announced last month.
“I just think it's killing our own people,” Fredendall, an electrician from Imlay, Mich., said in an interview Oct. 15.
He brought his wife and three children and joined over 100 other protesters outside the Solidarity House, the international headquarters of the auto union in Detroit.
Fredendall, a Catholic, openly speculated if abortion was considered for cost-cutting reasons.
“A 16-week abortion costs $550 — I called a local abortion clinic and found out. What does it cost to cover a child in health care for 19 years?” asked Fredendall. “I can't confirm anything, but it's gotta be a money angle.”
Ultimately, however, he said members got most upset because they were asked to contribute to abortions.
“I just didn't want to see kids killed,” said Fredendall. “Worse yet, that I had to pay for it. That's sickening. Just sickening.”
He said he was prepared to take legal action to protect workers who didn't want their union dues to pay for something they consider murder.
“It would have been the only way to stop them,” said Fredendall.
That wasn't necessary, though. The union announced Sept. 25 that the proposal was taken off the table in talks with auto workers.
Monica Migliorino Miller, who organized the protests, said Oct 15 that this issue almost didn't come to light.
Miller, director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, said an “anonymous source” had tipped her off in mid-July that the union would have an elective abortion benefit put in the contract. Her grass-roots organization has 3,000 activists in Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois.
She immediately sounded the alarm and sent emails to many grass-roots pro-life activists. Soon petition drives were circulating around workplaces where union members work. An Aug. 21 story from the Detroit Free Press then brought widespread publicity.
“The article notified a lot of the rank and file,” said Miller. “They could have snuck this through without the rank and file knowing. I think they wanted to keep it deliberately quiet.”
She said the protests here could help prevent other unions from considering such a divisive issue.
“If one of the biggest unions in the world covered abortion as a part of their benefits package, and no one opposed it, yes, it would have been an enormously bad precedent,” Miller said.
On Oct 10, a spokesman for the United Auto Workers refused to comment, but confirmed that the new contract contained no coverage for elective abortions.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, said that the union should have realized that this would upset many members.
“A lot of union members are pro-life. This is talking about their health benefit. It's a personal issue for members, she said.
Daniel Cronin of the National Right to Work Foundation said this controversy demonstrates the dangers of compulsory union shops.
“When you have to pay a $100 dues fee, is there any incentive for me to be a nice guy? When you give workers the freedom to choose [to join the union], [union bosses] become more responsive,” Cronin said.
Joshua Mercer is based in Washington.
- October 26-November 1, 2003