After a 14-month lockout, the 200 Steelworkers returned to work in the fall of 2011. They pushed back company demands to eliminate seniority and cut wages and pensions, turning the bosses’ lockout into a fight for solidarity.
“During the fight a new group of workers stepped up,” said Stephen Lech. “The executive board couldn’t do everything, so many of the younger workers took on responsibility for organizing the picket lines and solidarity.” Lech, 34, is the newly elected president of Local 7-669.
The Honeywell workers joined other struggles from Madison, Wis., where public workers protested state government attacks on their union, to Keokuk, Iowa, where corn-processing workers fought a 10-month lockout by Roquette America.
They took their fight to the Honeywell shareholders meeting in Morristown, N.J. They joined with groups in Los Angeles involved in the fight against Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, and workers rallies in Indianapolis and Washington, D.C.
“Now harassment of workers on the job is a daily thing,” said Lech. “The company is doing random drug testing and breathalyzer tests for alcohol.” He described how one worker was sent for a drug test after he was observed smoking a cigarette in the company parking lot.
Since the lockout ended seven workers have been fired, some, like Steve Allen, for alleged picket line incidents. The company accused Allen of breaking the car window of some line-crossers, although local police never charged him for lack of evidence.
Rick McConnell was fired in December for alleged misconduct on the job. “These are two of the most active union members, who never missed a picket line or a demonstration,” Lech said. “The company fired them to take out leaders, and the union is fighting to get all of those fired back to work.”
“I don’t regret anything I did. I learned more,” McConnell added. “I don’t want to have to do it again, but if I have to, I’ll do a better job.”
Christian Musselman, a fluorine cell operator with eight years in the plant, was part of a group that traveled to Marcus Hook, Pa., during the lockout, winning support from oil refinery workers. “The company is treating maintenance workers so bad that many are bidding on production jobs,” he said. Under the new contract the company can fill maintenance positions that come open with contractors.
About 100 current workers in the plant are contractors employed by The Shaw Group Inc., a company that brought scabs across the picket line during the lockout.
“A lot of us now understand that our fight is against the company, not against the replacement workers. They didn’t lock us out, Honeywell did,” Lech said. “They get fired just the same as we do. Many of them can’t afford to pay for health insurance. Now we all work together and we have to trust each other to uphold safety on this dangerous job.”
The USW Local 7-669 website continues the job it did during the lockout keeping members and supporters informed of the day-to-day struggle in the plant. “We came out of the lockout a stronger, more experienced union,” Lech said, “and we’ll continue to fight to get every fired worker back.”
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