The strikers, members of United Steelworkers of America Local 1028, walked out on August 25. The strike began after negotiations with MEI broke down when management refused to consider union demands limiting mandatory overtime and ending arbitrary firings over attendance and sudden cancellation of vacations. "We had not even got to the question of economic issues, that is, wages and benefits," Greg Luoma, a member of the negotiating committee, explained. "Management refused to negotiate new language for a justice and dignity clause. They also want us to sign a five-year contract. We've filed two unfair labor practices complaints against them with the National Labor Relations Board."
Luoma said that no union members have crossed the picket line since the strike began. Management is attempting to keep some production going with supervisors and claims to be operating at 20–25 percent of capacity. Union pickets outside the gate say the figure is probably much lower.
The plant, located in the Gary section of Duluth, produces alloy castings that line the inside of mills used to grind and crush rock in the mining industry — including iron, copper, gold, and silver mining. At the time the walkout began, 143 production workers worked in the plant. ME International is owned by the Charlotte, North Carolina-based GS Industries.
The strikers have received broad support, which increased after the company's ads for scabs appeared. On October 4 some 200 strikers and supporters rallied outside the plant gate. Unionists from the taconite mines on the nearby Iron Range came, as did public employees, Northwest workers from the Duluth airport, carpenters, and others.
Supporters continually drop by the picket line to bring food or firewood, to get the latest information, to drop off checks, or to simply express their solidarity.
The strikers have four-hour shifts on the picket line, which is maintained around the clock. Some strikers have taken temporary jobs, of which there are many in the Duluth area, and others are collecting $100 a week in strike benefits.
Luoma said, "This is only our third contract," he stated. "The union has been here only about eight years. We think they provoked the strike to try to break the union."
A representative of the National Labor Relation Board was in Duluth the first week of October investigating the unfair labor practice charges. The charges center around company harassment of Luoma after he was elected to the negotiating committee.
Doug Jenness is a member of USWA Local 9444 in Roseville, Minnesota.
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