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Vol. 75/No. 33      September 19, 2011

‘Workers need to stand up’
Steelworkers in Pa. fight Armstrong’s lockout
MARIETTA, Pa.—Workers at the spirited and well-organized picket line here remain steadfast in their fight for a better contract with Armstrong World Industries, a manufacturer of floors, ceilings, and cabinets.

Two hundred and sixty workers were locked out July 17 after the company’s contract offer was voted down for a second time. The previous union contract expired June 1.

Armstrong wants to eliminate pensions for all new hires, freeze pensions of current employees, gut seniority rights, and raise health care premiums. This year it also eliminated health care for new retirees at its ceiling factory here, the only Armstrong-owned plant to do so.

“Workers across the country need to be willing to stand up,” locked-out worker Mike McAllister told the Militant.

Workers at the plant here—organized by United Steelworkers Local 285, Unit 441—are picketing 24/7 in four-hour shifts.

USW contracts are set to expire October 3 at two other Armstrong plants, in Macon, Ga., and Lancaster, Pa., according to local president John Bevel. “They want to make an example of us to the other plants,” said McAllister.

The plant is an “open shop,” which means each worker chooses whether to join the union and pay dues. All 260 workers are locked out, however. According to Bevel, some 40 production workers have declined to join the union. A few of them have nonetheless joined picket lines.

“The day that we were locked out they cut off our health insurance—that minute!” said Brian Wilson, who has worked in the plant for 32 years. “My whole family had doctor appointments they couldn’t keep. Armstrong has been planning for this. They have all the warehouses full.”

“To me the most important issues in the contract are the lowering of our pay grades and health care increases,” said Wilson. “They want us to pay twice the premiums and raise co-pays from 90/10 to 70/30.”

The picket line faces soybean fields and cornfields on a busy country road. Passersby frequently wave and honk, including farmers on tractors and semitruck drivers. Members of the Airline Pilots Association and Pennsylvania state workers are among those who have stopped by the picket line in solidarity. The union’s tent at the site is filled with food donations.

On August 13, Sheldon Gregg, president of USW Local 1165-00 at the Arcelor Mittal steel plant in Coatesville, pulled up to the Armstrong picket line on his motorcycle to hand over a $3,000 check from the union and plant-gate collections.

Also last month, Armstrong workers joined the Verizon strikers’ picket line in Lancaster.

The company hired temporary workers, who, along with management, have begun production in the Marietta facility. Wilson pointed to two school buses and company vans that had brought workers from York and Lancaster.

Production workers have a seven-day rotating shift, and can also be forced to work two 12-hour days a week. One of the concessions the company is pressing, workers explained, is more flexibility in scheduling overtime.

On the picket line, Sandi Cooper, who has worked at Armstrong for 35 years—10 years in carpeting, 16 years in flooring, and 9 years in ceilings—pointed with respect to another worker, remarking, “He has worked so hard for 30 years. The company should get down on its knees in gratitude. Instead, they treat him like this. I told my coworkers, ‘I could retire but I want to stand and fight with you.’”
Related articles:
Locked-out workers protest scab-running outfit in Minn.
A weekly voice of workers’ solidarity
On the Picket Line  
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