With pickets up around the clock, strikers are keeping warm by burning wood and staying inside tents. Weve gotten fantastic solidarity from the community, said Ron Voboril, a shop steward. Were seeing all kinds of food, wood, honking from supporters, as well as union people joining the pickets. Voboril and other strikers said firefighters, Teamsters, gas workers, and others have joined the pickets since the strike began. Earlier this week two strikers from the plant in Topeka visited the lines, said Voboril.
Only one worker has crossed the line.
Workers here are digging in for a long strike. No negotiations have taken place since the strike began. Pickets report that the company has brought in strikebreakers from their nonunion hydraulic hose plant in Norfolk, Nebraska, to keep some production going.
This year the tire giant moved their hose production to Mexico. Now the main product made at this plant is rubber belts. Goodyear is planning to close plants in Alabama and Texas, cut wages by as much as 40 percent, and do away with retiree medical coverage. The union calls these proposals cut and gut.
When Goodyear threatened bankruptcy in 2003, the union agreed to cuts in wages, pensions, and health care. The companys sales rebounded to a record-breaking $19.5 billion last year.
Members of USW Local 252G from the Pilkington Glass plant here joined the picket line.
The same fighting spirit was present on the Goodyear picket line at an automotive belt plant in Owen Sound that day. Strikers there reported that about 400 Goodyear workers at a plant in Medicine Hat, Alberta, just voted 95 percent to give their bargaining committee a strike mandate and may join the walkout. There are 400 Goodyear strikers in Canada at four plants.
Strikers here said the company is trying to maintain production of hoses for cars with management and office personnel.
We wont work for $12 an hour, so were going to keep fighting, said Jennifer Malcolm, a member of USW Local 834 here in Collingwood. The average hourly pay is now Can$18. Strikers said the bosses are demanding two-tier wages.
The strikers lined both sides of the street and greeted the departure of the strikebreakers, escorted by the police, with shouts of One day longer, No justice, no peace, and Scab.
North Carolina is a state with an anti-union right to work law. According to USW members, about 90 percent of the 1,900 hourly workers in the plant are union members.
Strikers said the union held a rally at the union hall October 19 and then a mass picket as the strikebreakers left the plant. Nearly 1,000 strikers lined both sides of the street that day to greet those who had crossed the picket line, workers said.
Protecting retirees medical coverage is a main reason for the strike, Coles said. When the rubber is on the mill, it gives off a lot of smoke which can tax your lungs. But sometimes it wont affect you for 10 or 20 years. You might have a problem five years after you retire.
Ive never seen demands like these, added Mike Elsberry, referring to Goodyears contract proposals. Elsberry is a mill operator employed by Goodyear for 30 years, including 23 years at the Gadsden, Alabama, plant. But given the recent attacks by the bosses in the auto and airline industries, The handwriting was on the wall, he said.
Elsberry said that one of Goodyears demands is to employ a contingent workforce at $11 an hour with no benefits and part-time hours. Most workers here earn $20-24 an hour.
The round-the-clock pickets also have been getting reinforcements from other unionists, family, and friends.
Goodyear says we make $103,000 a yearaverage pay! said Rick Shields, a millright. Sometimes were forced to work six or seven days a week, even then we average about $45,000 a year. They never mention the $32 million the bosses got in bonuses.
The average life expectancy is only five years after retirement for us here, and there are signs around the plant warning us of all the cancer-causing conditions, said Baylen Sessions, who has worked here nine years. But they dont do anything about it! For us this fight is serious because were fighting for our union here.
Tom Baumann from Minneapolis and Paul Mailhot from Birmingham, Alabama, reported that similar solidarity activities took place at the picket line at the Goodyear plants in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and Gadsden, Alabama.
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