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Vol. 72/No. 14      April 7, 2008

Wheatland Tube workers fight no-match firings
(front page)
CHICAGO—Sixty people, workers at Wheatland Tube along with their friends and family, protested March 19 in front of the factory in Chicago’s South Side against recent firings there. Some of the workers who were fired had recently participated in a press conference announcing the filing of a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Wheatland for discrimination.

The workers filed the EEOC complaint in response to a previous firing. The press conference aired on the Spanish-language TV station Univisión.

Martín Unzueta, from the Chicago Workers Collective, said 20 workers that the company claims have mismatched Social Security numbers have been fired in recent weeks.

While waiting for the press to show up, the youngest supporters of the fired workers made signs in a Mexican restaurant that had opened its doors to the demonstrators. The Spanish and English signs included: “no-match letters = discrimination,” “work for all,” “documents for all,” and “Wheatland: don’t take our livelihood away.”

At Wheatland Tube, a Chicago manufacturer of tubing and conduit, workers belonging to the Sheet Metal Workers Local 73 had for two years prevented the company from firing 63 workers. The Social Security Administration had sent the company “no-match” letters, claiming the workers’ Social Security numbers did not match official records. Some of the workers have 17 years’ seniority.

Fernando Velásquez, a machine operator for nine years, was fired after speaking at the press conference. “I spoke on Univisión in the morning and when I went to my shift at 6 p.m., the security would not let me in.”

“I stood up for our coworkers who got fired. I don’t regret it!” he added. “We have paid vacations and other benefits owed to us. The company did it to pocket more money and hire workers for less.”

Several pickets described how one fired worker was physically pushed to his locker and then out the door. “We aren’t terrorists, we work hard,” said Rosalva Romero, whose husband is one of the 63 people on the list to be fired, although he is still working. “My family has worked in this plant since the late ’60s,” she added.

Romero and others explained that it is uncommon to have a five-day workweek at Wheatland Tube. Workers put in 12-hour shifts around the clock for six, and sometimes seven, days a week.

Abel Quintero, who had eight years at the company, said, “I’m here to win our jobs back.” His young son was continually chanting, “No to no-match!” and holding up a sign to passing traffic that said, “no deportations.”

Jasmine Velásquez, the daughter of Fernando Velásquez and a high school senior at Benito Juarez High School in Chicago, spoke about the importance of the fight for legalization in relation to the no-match letter firings. “It’s going to be a hard fight. It’s more about being consistent, keep protesting, building support, and not giving up,” she said.

Her high school organized a walkout last May Day to march for legalization in downtown Chicago. She joined the march of hundreds of thousands with her family.

The parent company of Wheatland Tube, John Maneely Company, is the largest North American manufacturer of steel tubing.
Related articles:
Workers in Chicago: ‘All out on May Day!’
Workers across U.S. plan for May Day
Inside the ring and out, Van Nuys workers fight effort to deport them  
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