11/4/08

Teamsters give scabs a free pass for now

More Teamsters stories: hereMore strike stories: here

To militant Michigan strikers, revenge is best served cold

Replacements hired, Metalworks strike in sixth day. Replacement workers were inside the Metalworks factory this morning while dozens of striking union workers again paced along the factory’s boundaries on Sixth Street and Conrad Industrial Drive this morning.

Ludington Police Chief Mark Barnett said the replacements came to the plant at 6 a.m. and their arrival did not cause problems. “It went very smoothly, the pickets were very professional and orderly and the management was the same,” he said.

Being replaced was not a surprise to the striking workers.

“We knew that was coming. They said they were going to replace us with permanent replacements. It was more of a betrayal of all the time we’ve put in and what have we to show for it. They’re making money and we’re not,” Charles Ray, one of the 146 striking Teamsters Union Local 406 workers said about the replacements while holding his picket sign today.

In a letter dated a week before the union workers voted 127-17 to reject Metalworks’ contract offer and walk off their jobs, the company announced to the workers and their families that it would hire replacement workers — and possibly permanently replace some of the strikers.

“I don’t think that shows a lot of respect for the employees who put in a lot of years, but I guess they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do,” said Trenton Lynn, chief steward for the local.

Ray, a 13-year employee, said he now has no income flow because he’s striking and will have to use savings to make his house and car payments and to pay his utility bills.

Strikers may eventually receive union benefits for their time spent picketing at a rate that is equal to about 10 hours of work each week. Those payments won’t begin until after the workers are out for 11 days.

The company did not return phone calls from the Daily News this morning.

What happened

Metalworks’ union employees rejected the company’s five-year contract offer by a 137-2 vote Oct. 8 and said no again Wednesday by a 127-17 vote and began picketing that afternoon.

Thomas Freyling, a Teamsters’ representative from its Grand Rapids office who was involved in the negotiations, said Wednesday that the main issue of disagreement is money. He said the company wants to offer $1,500 bonuses to workers after year’s end during the first two years and then provide 2-percent increases during each of the next three years starting with the employees’ 2008 wages.

The union workers, Freyling said, wanted a three-year contract with raises of 4 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent.

He said the union also has a problem with the company’s proposal to bring new workers in at a lower wage scale than used to pay current workers and to keep a difference between their pays. The union agrees with a lower starting wage but wants to include the new workers on the existing scale in time, he said.

Steve Saya, who walked the picket line this morning, said those weren’t the only issues.

“We want the public to know it’s not just about wages,” he said, adding that the workers also disagreed with proposed changes to seniority rights, use of subcontractors and the company estimating costs for health insurance coverage and co-pays.

“I don’t think we would be on strike if wages was the only issue,” said Saya, a Metalworks employee for 22 years. “The vote should tell the public a lot. When it gets turned down 127-17, it’s more than wages. A lot of the small things over the years have brought this to where it is.”

Now

Many of the striking workers unzipped their jackets while picketing in this morning’s sunshine as they carried signs and waved to passing motorists who honked their horns in support of the strikers.

“We’re doing good,” Lynn said today. “We’re getting a lot of the community support.”

Lynn said the past few mornings have been cold on the picket line, but said the weather has not affected the strike.

“We’re all used to the outdoors, we’re hunters and fishermen and used to the cold,” he said.

Lynn also doesn’t want the public to think the strike is only about differences over wage increases, but added, “five years with no increase is hard to swallow.”

He said the proposed wage increases would be only enough to cover the proposed health care cost increases.

Ann Fortin, a 22-year employee, said it was a nice day to picket today.

“And it was real nice for Bill Paine (who bought the company in 1966) to give all that money to Manistee for the swimming pool,” Fortin also said.

Bill and Martha Paine announced in fall 2007 that they would donate money to build a community pool at Manistee High School.

(ludingtondailynews.com)

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