The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 7      February 21, 2011

(front page)
Iowa unionists say, ‘We’re
more united since lockout’
Militant/Maggie Trowe
Pickets at entrance to Roquette America, February 4, in Keokuk, Iowa.

KEOKUK, Iowa—Unionists in this small Mississippi River town, members of Local 48G of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), are now in the fifth month of a fight against a lockout by corn processing company Roquette America.

The local continues to maintain round-the-clock picket lines at the plant, with lively, vocal, reinforced teams at the 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. shift changes. Last week, even on a day when Keokuk received 17 inches of snow and winds reached 50 miles per hour, the picket line stayed up.

Loretta Winters, a maintenance electrician at Roquette, explained that while not every union member has a regular picket shift, all members now come to the line to pick up vouchers for additional union assistance. “It gives us all a chance to talk with each other, see how people are doing, find out if they need help,” Winters said. “We have become closer, more united, since the lockout.”

Tom Buckert, the local’s vice president who heads up the hardship committee, said support and donations continue coming in from workers and unions in the region. The International Painters and Allied Trades local in Fort Madison, Iowa, organized a raffle and food collection. A group of local ministers maintain a food pantry for use by the locked-out workers. The United Council Staff Union of Illinois donated $5,000. While this reporting team was at the picket line, a man drove up to donate a truckload of wood for the “Club48G” picket shack stove.

In addition to the picket line and ongoing outreach activities, Local 48G is campaigning to halt funds the city and state provide to Roquette. The local collected 3,000 signatures on petitions that were presented to the Iowa Department of Economic Development in the state capitol. United Steelworkers Local 310 at Bridgestone/Firestone in Des Moines, Iowa, organized more than 500 of the signers. The petitions were also filed with the Keokuk City Council.

Roquette is demanding a two-tier wage scale, increases in health premiums, and use of “temporary workers.” The company is also now asking for “unlimited right to contract out any and all work at any time,” Steve Underwood, the local union’s president, told the Militant. This demand was added after the lockout began.

One of Roquette’s representatives, Aliza Golan, recently told the Hawkeye newspaper, “We are willing to negotiate… . There is no intention to break the union. The union has the option of dissolution.” Her statement enraged the unionists the Militant spoke to.

Buddy Howard, a locked-out worker recently elected president of the Lee County Labor Council, said that among recent underhanded moves Roquette was paying workers holiday and vacation pay in a lump sum. By doing so, even though nobody was working at the time because of the company lockout, workers were denied part of and in some cases all of their unemployment benefits.

While some locked-out workers have begun to take other jobs to make ends meet, only three of some 240 union members have crossed the picket line.

Jerry Brotherton, who has worked at the plant for 31 years, told the Militant, “People are starting to see that what happens to one union will happen to all. Things are slowly starting to change.”  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home