The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 36      October 10, 2011

Steelworkers in Pa. rally against
Armstrong’s union-busting drive
(front page)
LANCASTER, Pa.—“Stand Up, Fight Back!” shouted more than 150 members and supporters of United Steelworkers Local 285 at a picket line and rally here at the corporate headquarters of Armstrong World Industries September 22.

Two hundred and sixty production workers, including around 40 who are not union members, have been locked out of Armstrong’s Marietta plant since July 17 in a contract dispute over wages, health benefits, pensions, seniority and overtime. Armstrong manufactures ceilings, floors and cabinets.

Workers at the Marietta plant voted down the company’s latest offer by 85 percent September 15. It was “an even worse offer” than the first one workers rejected, said John Bevel, working president of Unit 441 of Local 285.

Contracts at Armstrong plants here and in Macon, Ga., expire October 3. Bevel told the rally that the Marietta workers “will stand behind Lancaster and Macon.” Strike authorization votes have passed at both plants, he reported.

“We’re only fighting for what we think is a fair contract.” Carol Ortman, a locked-out machine operator, told the Militant. Ortman has worked at the company for 29 years, starting right out of high school, and now volunteers for the 3-7 a.m. shift of the 24/7 picket line at the Marietta plant.

Speakers at the rally included Frank Snyder, secretary-treasurer of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO; Jean Martin, president of the Lancaster United Labor Council; Joe Rumberger, USW Local 285 president; and Sheldon “Snoop” Gregg, president of USW Local 1165 in Coatesville, which organized a plant-gate collection for the locked-out workers.

“Seniority is a very big issue, people work all these years,” said Dru Rico. “If you take that away, what do you have?” Rico is a retired worker, who along with other Armstrong retirees has been helping with the picket line.

“This isn’t about negotiating a contract, but busting the union. That’s what we believe,” said Chris Swope, a member of the “strike and defense committee” that aids locked-out workers.

Bonnie Malone, with 37 years at Armstrong, said she was one of the “linger’ers,” referring to a derogatory comment by a company representative during negotiations that anyone with more than five years’ seniority “did nothing but lingering.” Some workers wore T-shirts saying, “I’m just a linger’er. It is what it is.”

Gary Butzer, whose family has worked at Armstrong for four generations, said that having the union at Armstrong has helped keep wages up for everyone in the area.

The locked-out workers appreciate the solidarity offered by other working people.

“Some of the Norfolk Southern engineers bringing in the corn starch from Archer Daniels Midland and truck drivers carrying the mineral wool haven’t been crossing the picket line,” said locked-out mechanic Gary Kline.

“We are grateful for all the support from the community because we’ve really got our hands full,” USW member Tom Houser said.

Houser told the Militant he was incensed when the company cut off health benefits the first day of the lockout.“We have some workers who are in the middle of chemotherapy for cancer,” he said. USW 441 Unit president John Bevel explained that medical coverage for retirees at the Marietta plant ended Dec. 31, 2010, and that the USW is now providing some health care coverage for locked-out workers.

Another important contract issue is greater control of mandatory overtime by the company—workers are already on a seven-day rotating shift. “How much more can we work?” asked production worker Greg Bechtold.

Armstrong is pushing for concessions from the unions at its other plants. Local 285 Vice President Steve Gibble told the Militant that bosses at the Lancaster plant are pushing for a third wage tier and to outsource warehouse work at lower pay. Machinists at this plant are organized by the International Association of Machinists; their contract expires in November.

Also speaking at the rally was Dean Showers, president of USW Local 6996 in Sinking Springs, where 51 union members were locked out March 6 by Hofmann Industries, a steel tube fabricator. “What do we get from these companies? Only disrespect,” Showers stated.
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