Bob Abshire started working at Aerojet-General Corporation in 1953 as a utility man, later working his way up to Maintenance Mechanic. He was a member of the fledgling Local 946 that had only formed in 1952, and wouldn’t see their first ratified contract until 1956.
In 1955 Bob took a position as zone steward, beginning the fight for workers’ rights that he would later pass down to his son.
During times of contract negotiations and strike preparations , Joe (at the time a young boy) remembers his father coming home just to change clothes and hurry back to work. When he would ask what the union was fighting for, he would say, benefits such as healthcare, and better working conditions. During his time of service for the union Bob moved up to senior steward.
In 1974 Bob took a salaried position as Maintenance supervisor, just a few months before his son came to work at Aerojet.
Growing up with strong union beliefs, Joe was excited to join Aerojet and the union. In 1974 he started as a chemical operator “b”. Two weeks after he started Local 946 went on strike against Aerojet, Joe picketed for 3 months with them, before he had even paid his initiation fees, he stood with his brothers and sisters.
At that time his Father had already moved on to a salaried position, he had helped his Father move his trailer on site to stay during the duration of the strike. Then returned to his post as gate Captain of gate three, reporting back to the union if any problems arose. This wouldn’t be the only time he and his Father were on opposite sides, however his Father, being loyal to the union for so long, supported his son.
After 3 months, they returned to work. Joe returned to his normal job which included checking chemical tanks for cleanliness and moisture. At that time safety regulations were much more relaxed than they are today. There were no regular visits from OSHA, or much in the way of confined space training.
Late in 1975 Joe arrived to start his shift and was assigned to go check out a chemical tank, luckily for him Mike Sanchez, a third shift worker heading out, decided to stay and watch Joe climb into the tank. When Joe was finished inspecting the tank and preparing to climb out, he fainted due to lack of oxygen. Mike spotted Joe losing consciousness and grabbed him, unable to lift him completely out he held his head high enough to get oxygen and wake up so that he could climb out of the tank.
After his near miss of a possibly fatal accident, Joe went to management. His supervisor informed him they had been pumping nitrogen through that tank for three days to dry it out. Obviously concerned that the information not passed on could have cost him his life, Joe joined the safety committee to try to prevent similar incidents.
Joes passion for safety led to many changes in Aerojet policy. Most notably the company and union working together with OSHA, and Local 946 being the first to have a full-time safety chairman. Our current safety chairman Ken Masterman was hired by Bob Abshire in 1980 as a maintenance mechanic.
From 1976-1995 Joe held many positions with the Local union including, safety committee chairman, E-board member, bylaw committee chairman and MNPL chairman. At one point, he even wrote his father up for safety. Unfortunately, Bob Abshire passed in 1983 due to a heart attack. In July 1987 Local 946 was back on strike against Aerojet. Largely due to contractors preforming bargaining unit work (a problem we are familiar with today). They picketed for about three months before returning in October, working for a year without a contract.
In 1995 Joe was called up to the international, recognized for the good work he had done in safety for the local, the international was the next logical step. He became the Liaison for the IAM center for worker health and safety education. He spent 2 years in Cincinnati at that position. In 1997 he moved up to headquarters as the Development Coordinator for Training programs IAM CREST. 1998 was promoted to assistant director IAM health and safety department. Where he stayed until he retired from the IAM in 2013.
Later that year he returned to Aerojet, shocked to see how much the environment had changed. As a child, he had attended many functions, usually held in the rec center (now the Mormon church property) he said “the company and union all felt like one big family”. He was saddened to see that a once unified and militant union, now seemed divided, how management no longer seemed to work alongside the union.
Since his return to Aerojet he has been a steward, Grievance committeeman, and now chief steward. Continuing on the work his Father started 60 years ago.