Illinois union locked out, replacements coming

Ninety union employees are without jobs, and most without benefits, following a three-month contract dispute and lockout at Quad City Die Casting, 3800 River Drive. Employees were informed Thursday night they would be locked out of work effective immediately. This will continue until their union, United Electrical Local 1174, agrees to the company's "last, best and final offer for a new labor agreement," according to a letter from company president Drew Debrey. "We take this action with regret, but believe it is necessary to protect the interests of our company, our customers and ultimately your job security," the letter says.

Quad City Die Casting -- which produces aluminum and magnesium components at a 40,000-square-foot plant -- had been negotiating a new contract with the union since May. Workers had been under a prior three-year agreement that froze wages until it expired June 30, said Local 1174 president Rich Nordholm, a toolmaker.

"Just to lock us out and pull back, I think, was very wrong. It was a shock," he said Friday, as about a dozen employees sat outside the building protesting the move, holding signs out to motorists. Some workers were out since 6:30 a.m. Friday.

The parties brought in a federal mediator to try to resolve the contract dispute, and they met at an unsuccessful nine-hour session on July 17.

The disagreement centers on the company's plan to use temporary and part-time employees to supplement the work force, to "reduce our costs so that we can meet the continuous demands of our customers to reduce our prices," Mr. Debrey's letter says.

Contrary to what the union has said, the proposal would not affect wages or job security, according to the company. Temporary employees only would be used when 75 full-time workers are scheduled and no employees are on layoff, and Quad City Die Casting would hire no more than five part-time employees at a time.

Mr. Nordholm said employees haven't been told details of that plan and fear that hiring temps or part-time workers could mean the loss of union jobs. "They'd be basically training their own assassins," he said.

"We have a hard enough time watching new full-time people, let alone temps," said Steve Bailey, a machine operator, union steward and contract negotiator. He called the sometimes dangerous work "stressful," and said the inside of the plant is typically 130 degrees.

The previous contract had a cap of 800 hours a year on the use of temp workers, and the union proposed allowing 10,000 hours a year, which the company rejected, Mr. Bailey said.

"I thought the whole point of mediation was to find middle ground," he said. "There was no middle ground. It was `our way or the highway.'"

The company letter said the temporary and part-time employees would be used only under "certain limited conditions." Mr. Debrey was not available Friday afternoon to comment on the dispute.

In early July, the company laid off 19 union employees, who still are on health insurance and collecting unemployment, Mr. Nordholm said. Many other workers wonder how they are going to pay their medical bills, he said.

"I am on 10 medications and they cost $980 a month without insurance," said Robin Carden, whose husband Jerry works at the plant. She has had a stroke, has high blood pressure and asthma.

"I was looking at back surgery, but my doctor canceled it because of this," Ms. Carden said.

"It's sad. All of us don't have health insurance because of this. I have a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old," said one laborer/metal tender.

Starting union wages at the company are $9.50 an hour and go up to $15, depending on the job, Mr. Bailey said. Labor and management were not far apart on the wage proposals, Mr. Nordholm said, declining to give details.

The lockout is "a big push to see if they'll just take it," he said of the last offer. "There's a lot of people working week to week, paycheck to paycheck. I'm not sure what they'll decide."

The union will meet at noon Sunday at the Silvis Eagles Club to discuss what to do, Mr. Nordholm said.

"I would like to see us hold the line," he said. "It's a toss-up what they'll do. Fifty percent feel they've been really done wrong. The other half, I think they're scared."

Quad City Die Casting is part of Moline-based QuadCast Inc., which has other casting plants in Davenport and Red Oak, Iowa. Both are non-union, Mr. Nordholm said.

During the lockout, the company will use employees not covered by the labor agreement, hiring temporary replacements, and shipping work to Red Oak, according to the company letter.


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