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Vol. 75/No. 38      October 24, 2011

Marietta Armstrong workers:
‘We’re still fighting’
MARIETTA, Pa.—Workers locked out here since July 17 by Armstrong World Industries pledged to keep fighting, following approval of similar concession contracts at two other Armstrong plants.

“We are standing up for what we believe in and we are more united than ever,” Bernie Montgomery told the Militant while picketing outside the plant October 9.

The locked-out members of United Steelworkers Local 285 are continuing to picket 24/7. They rejected the bosses’ contract offer, which demanded concessions on wages, health benefits, pensions, seniority and overtime. The lockout includes 220 union members and some 40 unorganized workers. Management and replacement workers, bused across the picket line in company vans and buses with tinted windows, have resumed some production at the plant.

Earlier that day, members of a different unit of Local 285 voted October 9 to accept a concession contract with Armstrong World Industries at the company’s flooring plant in Lancaster, Pa.

The three-year Lancaster contract cuts pay for new hires and creates a third pay tier, according to Local 285 President Joseph Rumberger. At the same time it offers a $10,000 bonus to anyone retiring during the life of the contract. Rumberger estimated that 90 of the 140 workers will be eligible to retire.

The contract will replace wage increases with lump sum payments and a 401(k) plan will replace pensions for newly hired workers.

“I’m already on a second tier and now they can move me to the warehouse on a third tier,” a young worker on his way to vote told the Militant. “Plus my age group will have no pension or retiree health benefits. This vote is going to divide the older and younger workers right down the middle. I’m going to vote ‘no.’” He declined to give his name, citing voting privacy. Thirty workers picked up copies of the Militant on their way into the meeting.

At a press conference after the vote, Rumberger announced the result, saying that the contract had been “hard to swallow but we do want to work.” He added that while no one was happy about the company’s proposal, “the economy is tough.” In the group of workers standing behind him during the press conference, one worker shouted out, “This is the worst contract ever!”

“We will still support our brothers and sisters in Marietta and do all we can to help,” stated Rumberger.

Two days before the Lancaster vote, production workers at the ceiling plant in Macon, Ga., voted 84 percent for a four-year contract that included an average annual wage raise of less than 2.4 percent and elimination of retiree medical benefits, according to Steve Gibble, Local 285 vice president.

“It’s pretty obvious what the company is trying to do,” Brian Wilson, a locked-out worker in Marietta, told the Militant. “They want to keep us divided. Many of the older workers may well take these offers.”

“The company will likely use Lancaster and Macon to put more pressure on us,” said production worker Luba Simpson.

Bruce Webster, also a production worker at the Marietta factory, said he was not surprised that Armstrong offered Lancaster workers lump sum payments instead of a wage increase. “That’s their slight of hand,” he said. “They can’t come right out and say it’s a ‘wage freeze.’”

The locked-out workers have received solidarity from members of Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers Local 376 at the Anvil foundry in Columbia, Pa., according to union member Gene Miller. “It ain’t over. We’re still fighting,” he insisted.
Related articles:
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Unionists, youth join Fargo demonstration
Union at military truck plant in Wisconsin rejects concessions
As UK bosses skirt new law, agency workers turn to unions
Hundreds protest school aide layoffs in New York
Coal miners fight Peabody’s attempts to block union
Paprika workers in New Zealand fight layoffs  
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