The local has organized pickets at plant entrances. Two smaller locals at the plant — International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 309 and International Association of Machinists Local 2006 — have contracts that will expire at the end of the month.
"If they want me to give five years of my life, they need to give us a chance to read the contract and understand it," said Tom Bridges as he stood on the picket line in front of the plant. "We saw and voted on the contract on Saturday. The company scheduled a down day on Monday. [We] came to work Tuesday and we were locked out."
The company proposed only a yearly 40-cents-an-hour wage raise, while increasing the cost of health insurance. Tim Brown, a member of USWA Local 1063, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that "he now pays $50 a month toward health insurance for his family. Under the rejected contract, the insurance would have risen to $85 immediately and gone up $5 each year after that."
"They make money hand over fist," Peggy Smith told Militant reporters. "We want to make equal pay with the other steel mills. We are not asking for much." She has worked at American Steel for 14 months. The average wage is $13 per hour.
Bruce Mason said new hires "are not first-class citizens like the rest of us." They start at $8.40 an hour and have a 90-day probation. When Mason started working there the probation was 45 days and there was no two-tier wage scale. In 1995 the union agreed to a company proposal to pay new hires less with the promise that it would be given back in the next contract. Mason, who runs a heat crane, has worked at American Steel for six years and makes $13.86 an hour.
Bill Fisk, who has also worked there for six years, said, "More than one-third of the workforce has worked at the foundry for less than five years. There should be equal pay for new hires. You should get equal pay when you are in the union." Fisk said they regularly work six days, 12-hour shifts, and have no paid sick days.
"There is a lot of history behind this," said picket Jeff Lewis. In the early 1980s the union agreed to concessions to keep the plant open. In 1982 the plant shut down and reopened in 1989. The union accepted a three-year wage freeze. "We need to stand strong," Lewis said. "The company is used to the union folding if they threaten us."
American Steel Foundry is more than 100 years old and is owned by Amsted Industries of Chicago. Amsted's profits in 1998 were $83.5 million. They have plants in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. The foundry melts steel and molds it into parts for undercarriages and small parts for rail cars.
Shelton McCrainey is a member of USWA Local 9014 at Hussman in Bridgeport, Missouri; Alyson Kennedy is a garment worker in St. Louis.
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