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Vol. 75/No. 31      September 5, 2011

On the Picket Line

Locked-out Illinois workers:
‘This is not just about wages’

HENRY, Ill.—“They want to make slaves of the workers. They want to dictate your every move,” said Steve Scobee while grilling hamburgers at the weekly cookout held by members of Teamsters Local 627. Forty members of the local have been locked out of Emerald Performance, a chemical plant just outside of Henry, since March 21.

Chief Steward Brett Wiedman said Steelworkers, Chemical Workers, and Teamsters unions at other Emerald plants in Ohio, Washington, and Illinois have formed the Emerald Unions Council.

In a statement the council said, “What brought us together is an unprecedented attack on the livelihood of our members.” Workers refuse “to accept a 30 percent cut in pay, the outsourcing of the quality control lab, and the elimination of the Environmental Health and Safety Operator position, amongst other things.”

Dave Hastings, who has worked 20 years at the plant, said the contract proposes to outsource his job as a quality lab operator. “This is not just about the wages,” he said. “You will not have any control of your work schedule. They propose eliminating all of our sick days.”

Donnie Dickerson, 34, had worked in the plant for five weeks when the lockout began. He said the proposed wage cut would reduce his hourly pay by $1, but “I’m not going to cut an older guy’s throat to save $1. I wouldn’t want him to do that to me.” Many workers would have their pay cut from $30 an hour to $20.

“There used to be a team, now there is no team, there is us and them,” said Bill Russell, who has worked at Emerald for 33 years. He said there is a lot of community support for their fight. When a local car dealership refused to allow its lot to be used to park replacement workers cars, the company got use of the county fairgrounds. “Then the union went to the board and got that stopped,” Russell said.

Alyson Kennedy

Minnesota grocery stores picketed
over stalled contract talks

ST. PAUL, Minn.— More than 50 people picketed outside the Kowalski’s grocery store here August 17. The company has pulled out of negotiations with Local 1189 of the United Food and Commercial Workers and imposed its last offer to the union. A similar picket was held simultaneously at another Kowalski’s store in White Bear Lake.

Kowalski’s “is attempting to destroy the grocery pension plans by withdrawing from all of them and starting their own 401(k),” the union said on its website. In addition, the company is seeking to impose a wage freeze and to replace full-time workers with part-timers.

The pickets, many carrying signs saying “We support Kowalski’s workers,” were warmly received by people driving by the store. This was not the case with bosses inside the store. Many of them came outside, including the owner, and debated Don Seaquist, president of UFCW Local 1189, which represents 5,000 workers in the metropolitan area. Seaquist told them, “You want to talk to me now, after pulling out of the talks. Come back to the table, then we can talk.”

Carrying signs that said “Stop the war on U.S. workers,” members of Teamsters Local 120 joined the picket line, along with about 20 members of UFCW locals who were in town in negotiations with Hormel. These included meatpacking locals in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.

Negotiations with St. Paul grocers, including Cub, Jerry’s Foods, Rainbow Foods, Festival Foods, and Lunds/Byerly’s, are ongoing. These grocers agreed to contract extensions on June 23.

—Frank Forrestal

Chicago meat packers win
settlement on plant shutdown

CHICAGO—Meat packers fired nearly 10 years ago have won a victory in a class-action lawsuit against the American Meat Packing Corporation.

Bosses at AMPAC, Chicago’s last hog slaughterhouse, closed their doors in November 2001 without giving nearly 300 workers 60 days notice, a violation of the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Act. Most were members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Workers who were on AMPAC’s payroll as of Oct. 31, 2001, are receiving checks. The settlement, available to the public at the U.S. District Court here, bars AMPAC workers and their attorney from making public comments on it.

After the shutdown, a couple dozen AMPAC workers met in the Latino Union, a center for temporary workers, and decided to demand two months severance pay, extension of medical benefits, and unpaid vacation pay. They won support from churches and community groups. On Christmas Eve 2001, 50 AMPAC workers protested in front of the plant, carrying signs in Polish, Spanish, and English.

Four months later another 50 workers rallied when the lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court. Messages of support were received from UFCW Local 789 in South St. Paul, and workers at ConAgra Beef in Omaha, Neb.

—Ilona Gersh

Related articles:
Sugar workers resolute in fight against lockout
Reach out for solidarity in Upper Midwest
Verizon strikers return to work, fight against takebacks is still on
West Virginia coal miner is killed in 13th US mine death  
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