WARNER ROBINS -- If you ask Robert Tidwell, the most important upcoming election in Middle Georgia isnt the mayoral races in Bibb County or Warner Robins, but for the union presidency at Robins Air Force Base.
Tidwell, an aircraft sheet metal mechanic, is running against nine-year incumbent Tom Scott to lead American Federation of Government Employees Local 987. Scott declined comment about the election, but Tidwell had plenty to say Friday as he painted the frames for his campaign signs at a friends house in Warner Robins.
He believes the future of the base and Middle Georgia itself is on the line.
Id say this right here is the most important election we have, he said. Its the third election that nobody knows about. We dont need to sit back and wait for whats going to happen to us. Weve got to stand up and fight now and prepare ourselves.
Earlier this year, retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon, former commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, called out base and union leaders for poor labor/management relations.
McMahon, who leads the 21st Century Partnership, specifically cited the high number of grievances filed in comparison to the Air Forces other two maintenance depots. He said it would be a critical factor in the event of a Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
Tidwell said he agreed with McMahons comments, and he and many other union members were troubled when the unions newspaper responded by running a picture of McMahon with a dunce cap over his head.
They got on him for telling the truth, Tidwell said.
Although base management and union leaders say they have been working together better this year, it hasnt resulted in fewer grievances. Tidwell said the base is on track this year to exceed the number of grievances last year.
Col. Chris Hill, base commander, said recently that grievances in the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex were up 43 percent this year and up 25 percent in the 78th Air Base Wing.
One key to reducing grievances, Tidwell said, is more union involvement with its members. He said union leaders spend too much time at union hall when they should be on base listening to workers concerns. He promised that if elected, he and all union leaders would be more visible in the workplace. By having a greater awareness of workers concerns, he said, the union can work with management to head off grievances.
If our union dont change and help grow Robins and grow this region, our future is at jeopardy, he said. A union can make a company successful by working together, or it can kill a company. Right now our union has plenty of opportunities to do more to help save our jobs. Men and women are sick and tired of worrying if they are going to get laid off next week.
Tidwell, who works in the 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group, said he is the person who reported workplace safety problems to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration three years ago after he said union leaders and base management ignored his concerns.
It resulted in 39 OSHA citations, and Tidwell said he was criticized on both sides. He said he was even threatened by one base manager. But, he said, it led to significant safety changes, and the unit is now held as a model throughout the military for its safety improvements.
Joining the race
The union holds elections for its leadership positions every three years. Tidwell and other candidates were nominated in a meeting held at union hall in Warner Robins on Tuesday. Every incumbent has opposition, and Tidwell said he is running with a team of candidates to try to effect change in the union.
The election will be held Oct. 15 at union hall and will be done by secret ballot. An outside company will conduct the election. Turnout has traditionally been very low, and Tidwell said reversing that trend is an important part of his strategy.
In an emailed statement, McMahon didnt take any side in the election but offered several thoughts on it, including his hope for a high turnout.
Like other regional elections poised to take place this fall, the union elections on Robins Air Force Base will have a significant impact on the future of Middle Georgia, he said. Those elected into office will very likely have the responsibility of helping the base and the community weather the next round of Base Realignment and Closure. Specifically, they will be integral to transforming the current negative perception of union/management relations held by senior DoD and governmental leaders.