|Aug. 2 Teamsters’ picket line at Davis Wire mill in Kent, Wash. Strike began May 21.|
Workers had rejected the company’s proposed contract, which included a steep increase in the cost of medical insurance and little change in hourly wages. Job safety is also a big concern.
“We turned down a bad contract,” said Quang Tran, a 31-year veteran of the plant. “The company has just walked away from the table.”
Davis Wire is just going through the motions of negotiating with the union, but there has been no progress, picketers said.
“The company is trying to keep the Kent (plant) competitive,” Davis Wire attorney Harry Stang told the Kent Reporter. “But the union doesn’t want to cooperate.”
Many strikers on the picket line say that a combination of old machinery, speedup, and incentives, where workers boost their pay by surpassing production quotas, have made the plant a dangerous place to work. Davis Wire, owned by Heico Wire Group, also has plants in Irwindale, Calif., and Pueblo, Colo.
“From my head to my toes I have cuts all over,” Tran told the Militant. “In my department there are four people who have lost fingers.” He showed four of his fingers with the tips cut off. Two were missing the entire last joint.
Working people in the area regularly stop by to drop off food, drinks, ice and other supplies to the picket line. Strikers—and sometimes visitors—prepare meals at a barbecue grill in front of a banner that says, “Thank you for your support,” covered in signatures and messages from well-wishers.
Davis Wire has tried to keep the plant running with about 20 replacement workers. Strikers say that just one union member has crossed the picket line.
The scabs are also getting injured on the job, shop steward Robert Bruner said. “A young kid who was hired from Irwindale and sent up to Kent left injured on Saturday. He was wincing with pain,” Bruner told the Militant at the picket line Aug. 4. “He said, ‘They told me to go home this weekend and take it easy and if it was still hurting Monday they would take me to the clinic.’ It makes you wonder how many others up here have been injured.”
“I try to explain to these replacement workers crossing the picket line that we are out here fighting for a cause, about the way we are being treated,” Chet Sherman, a 15-year veteran of the plant, said. “I don’t think it’s helpful to use hateful words against these people. It doesn’t help to open their minds to the union point of view. Some of them are in bad shape too as far as needing a job.”
The strikers have learned of some workers looking for jobs who refused to cross the picket lines. “Two guys came by and said an employment agency tried to send them to Davis Wire, but they knew that there was a strike here and they declined the job,” said Bruner.
Pickets report provocations by guards, including insults, placing a bucket of stinking garbage close to the picket tent, and breaking a chair and throwing union signs out in the road when there were only three pickets on duty. “They are trying to provoke an altercation so they can go to court and get an injunction against us,” Bruner said.
Davis Wire did not respond to a request for comment.
Teamsters Local 117 has set up a “One More Day Fund” to help the strikers. Go to www.teamsters117.org for more information. Contributions to the fund can be made online.
Edwin Fruit contributed to this article.
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