UAW leaders prefer pickets to contract vote

Locked-out Gunite Corp. workers in Rockford (IL) stood outside the plant’s back gate Friday in a bracing wind that was expected to reach a chill factor of 17 degrees below zero overnight.

It’s a far cry from their usual jobs where the roaring heat of a foundry churns out molten iron for brake drums. But members of United Auto Workers Local 718 are getting used to the outdoor shift since management locked them out two months ago Friday after labor talks broke down.

Since then, the union and company representatives have met once, a Jan. 3 session where union negotiators asked questions about the company’s contract offer. The two sides aren’t set to talk again until Jan. 29 and 30.

Workers say they’re still united to get a better contract but admit that two months on picket lines collecting unemployment is a strain on their families. While the unemployment benefit is about two-thirds of a worker’s pay, it’s based on a 40-hour workweek. Gunite’s 136 union workers average 66 hours a week, according to the UAW.

“It’s getting tougher all the time,” millwright Mark LeFevre said. “It gets a little frustrating. For one thing, they stretched the talks out.”

In the meantime, security guards hired by the company keep a constant eye on the pickets. Replacement workers and salaried employees are operating the plant.

“Customer orders continue to be filled on time, with quality products coming from the facility,” said Eva Schmitz, spokeswoman for Accuride Corp., Gunite’s corporate parent.

The company will answer the contract questions at the upcoming bargaining session, a meeting the union requested, Schmitz said.

The company proffered a contract Nov. 16 that included 2 percent annual raises, then locked out union workers Nov. 18 when they did not vote on it. The company didn’t give the UAW enough time to ask questions on changes to contract language regarding job classifications and worker safety, said Rick Kardell, Local 718 president.

“It’s going very slow,” Kardell said. “That’s my impression. A lot of people ... they’re forgetting that they locked us out. We didn’t strike the plant.”

Accuride locked out workers at a similar wheel-parts plant in Henderson, Ky., for four years in a devastating labor dispute that resulted in the United Auto Workers International dissolving the union local after its members voted down several contracts that would have cut the work force by 75 percent.


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