The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 74/No. 41      November 1, 2010

(front page)
Locked-out Iowa workers
fight union busting at mill
Militant/Rebecca Williamson
October 16 rally in support of workers locked out of Roquette America corn mill in Keokuk, Iowa.

KEOKUK, Iowa—More than 800 people marched here October 16 to support some 240 workers locked out at Roquette America, Inc., after rejecting a union-gutting contract proposal. They are members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 48G.

“Keokuk has never seen anything like it, the solidarity of hundreds. This will energize the lines for weeks,” Wade Kehler told the Militant. He works as a wet corn mill operator at Roquette. The company is one of the world’s largest corn products manufacturers, producing starches, sweeteners, and animal feed.

A group of Mexican workers in front of the restaurant where they worked waved support. A local deli set up a grill on the sidewalk and handed out hotdogs and hamburgers to the marchers.

Members of the United Steelworkers (USW), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), United Auto Workers, and other unions, and family members of the locked-out workers and many community people turned out for the solidarity action.

After Steve Underwood, president of Local 48G, thanked everyone for their solidarity, the march began down Main Street, followed by a large picket in front of the plant and a meal of hotdogs, navy beans and ham, chili, and corn bread at the Labor Temple.

According to Brenda Bradley, the idea for the solidarity march originated in the Women of Steel committee of USW Local 444. “I thought all the unions should come together because if they break Local 48G, then we are next,” she said. Bradley has worked for 26 years at Henniges Automotive, a nearby factory. She marched with other members of Women of Steel.

Valerie Lawson, a meat packer and member of UFCW Local 61, said, “This could happen to any one of us. The companies are trying to break the unions. I have been to the other side: low wages and no health insurance.”

Roquette America delivered what it called its “last, best, and final offer” September 27, the expiration date of the contract with Local 48G. The company told union negotiators it would lock out the workers if they rejected the pact. The next day more than 200 local members voted the contract down despite the lockout threat.

When workers returned to the job after the vote, they found the company had erected cement barricades at the entrance to the plant, reprogrammed the computers to not accept their identification cards, and brought in extra security guards.

Under Roquette’s proposed contract, monthly health insurance payments would double for the first year. Two days after the lockout began, the company cancelled workers’ health coverage.

Roquette wants to pay new employees $4 below the current starting wage. The company also wants to continue using temporary workers instead of hiring full-time workers at union-scale wages.

Roquette has brought in about 60 scabs, or what they call “professional contingency workers.”

Loretta Winters, an electrician, is the picket captain at the main gate. She is one of a dozen women who are production or maintenance workers in the plant. “I worked here 17 and a half years and maybe went to five union meetings in all that time. And look at me now! It’s every day! And I’m proud to be here. It’s time for everybody to step up and be part of this union.”

Messages of support can be sent to: BCTGM Local 48G, 301 Blondeau Street, Keokuk, Iowa 52632, or e-mailed to Phone: (319) 524-1249; Fax: (319) 524-1751.
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