The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 45      December 12, 2011

(front page)
‘Fight is for the future,’ say
locked-out Pa. Steelworkers
Militant/Janet Post
Steelworkers Sandi Cooper, Dan Walters and Jeff Bode on the picket line at Armstrong World Industries in Marietta, Pa. More than 260 workers have been locked out since July 17.

MARIETTA, Pa.—Workers locked out by Armstrong World Industries are maintaining their determined 24/7 picket line here and preparing for winter weather. Some 220 members of United Steelworkers Local 285/441, and about 40 unorganized workers, were locked out since July 17, after rejecting company concessions.

“I’m amazed by the amount of public support we’re getting,” production worker Kirby Kreider told the Militant while on picket duty. “A few people stop by every day. Most are aware that we were locked out. Truck drivers sometimes stop their rigs to give us supplies and wish us good luck.”

“We’re more unified as everybody’s gotten to know each other better than we had at work,” said Cindy Staples.

The plant is an “open shop,” meaning each worker chooses whether to be a member of the union. Some of the 40 nonunion workers have joined the picket line and are considering joining, according to Staples.

In addition to concessions around wages, health benefits, pensions and seniority, Armstrong bosses are pushing for a mandatory 12-hour workday and the ability to use salaried employees to perform hourly work, said John Bevel, Unit 441 president.

Replacement workers and supervisory personnel are running production at the plant. The scabs are driven into the factory by vans with covered windows.

At the union hall in Lancaster each Monday, the union’s Employee Relief Committee greets locked-out workers who come by for aid and to discuss developments. Barb Dabbs, a member of the committee, pointed to a stack of letters and contributions. “Those are mostly from USW locals,” she said. “There are so many, we ran out of thank-you notes.”

“A lot of people stop down on the line and give us a little cash,” she stated.

Brian Wilson, newly assigned line coordinator—responsible for shelter, propane heat, straw, snacks and maintenance—said strikers gained more space for pickets after tracking down a county map that pushed the company guards further down the road to Armstrong property.

Armstrong corporate communications director Jennifer Johnson has thus far declined to return calls about the lockout from the Militant. Representatives for Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Corbett have also not replied to inquiries.

The USW International in Pittsburgh released a letter from Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Casey Jr. to Matthew Espe, CEO of Armstrong. Casey writes, in part, “I urge Armstrong World Industries to resume bargaining with the USW in a manner that will produce a mutually acceptable outcome.” A staff representative in the senator’s Washington, D.C., office told the Militant that “Senator Casey is monitoring the issue, but has no further comment.”

“The company just looks at the workers with contempt. They think of us as a bunch of ‘clock punchers,’” picket Dan Walters told the Militant.  
‘Company wants to divide us’
“The company wants to divide us, young and old,” said Sandi Cooper, who has worked at Armstrong for 34 years. “This is not just for ourselves, but for the future.”

The workers also discussed the lockout of 1,300 sugar beet workers in the Midwest, and the increasing use of lockouts by bosses throughout the country.

On Nov. 18, workers at the Armstrong ceiling-tile plant in Pensacola, Fla., agreed to a new contract (the vote result has not been released). This comes after recent agreements at plants in Lancaster and Macon, Ga. Now, at these three plants, workers who are not yet 50 years of age or have less than 10-years seniority will lose retiree medical coverage and new hires will have 401(k) plans instead of pensions.

Armstrong World Industries, with 9,500 employees worldwide, reported record profits in the third quarter of 2011. These were, in part, due to write-offs from closing plants in Teesside, England; Holmsund, Sweden; and Beaver Falls, Pa.

Letters of support and contributions for the locked-out workers in Marietta can be sent to: USW Local 285/441, 3002 Hempland Rd., Lancaster, PA. 17601, or
Related articles:
‘Sugar beet ambassadors’ hit the road for support
On the Picket Line  
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