Some 1,050 members of United Steelworkers Local 207L are entering their eighth week on the picket line. Cooper Tire bosses locked them out Nov. 28 for rejecting the company’s contract demands to cut wages, speed up work and establish lower pay and benefits for new hires. The workforce is already divided into four different tiers of pay.
“Almost every single member of the local is participating in the 24-hour picket shifts at the plant entrances,” said Todd Best, a picket organizer and extruder operator at the plant. “On our best week we had 872 members walk the picket line. That’s important because it means people who voted in favor of the contract are arm in arm with those who voted no—people understand we really need to stick together.”
Union members voted down the company’s “last, best” contract offer by 606 to 305.
Jeanna Lopez, who works as a bead former at the plant, spent the day with another coworker delivering coffee, hot chocolate and food to people on picket duty at all seven gates. “In addition to this I also put in two four-hour picket shifts myself,” she said.
“We got our unemployment benefits and the union is giving out $100 gift cards to help with gas and food expenses,” Lopez said. Workers who need assistance to pay medical and other bills are getting help from the union strike and defense fund.
The plant here normally produces 20,000 tires daily. Cooper has hired temporary replacement workers, but company officials have declined to say how many or give production figures. Some news sources say the scabs include workers from a plant Cooper closed down in Albany, Ga.
In an email to the Toledo Blade, company spokesperson Michelle Zeisloft said the company did not have any comment on its temporary workers “other than to say that we are extremely pleased with their qualifications, work ethic, and adaptability. We are also fortunate to have the full assistance of our salaried employees, a number of whom have plant experience, and assistance from other Cooper plants as needed.”
“They claim they’re bringing in experienced tire builders to replace us,” said USW member Terri Thompson. “But I’ll tell you, it’s been eight weeks we’ve been out of the plant and it’s just now starting to sound like any kind of a factory in there.”
This afternoon on the picket line it was clear from the honking horns, waves and thumbs up that the locked-out workers have a lot of support in the area.
“We’re finding the community is really behind us,” said Joseph Schwab, a steel belt cutter in the plant. Yard signs can be seen all over town in support of the USW workers that read, “Cooper Tire’s corporate greed FLAT OUT WRONG! Support 207L End the Lockout.”
“This is the first time in 16 years in the plant I have seen everybody stand up together like this,” Thompson said. “And we’re getting support from all over and making connections. We’re getting workers locked out by American Crystal Sugar writing in to our union website. We’re all fighting against the same thing.”
In the past week, a delegation of locked-out workers from United Steelworkers Local 207L in Findlay together with a representative from the USW international traveled to Krusevac, Serbia, to meet with leaders of Nezavistnost, which represents workers at a tire plant there recently bought by Cooper. Nezavisnost President Milorad Panovic has publicly called upon the company to end the lockout in Findlay and pledged support for locked-out union brothers and sisters here.
Messages of support and donations can be sent to USW Local 207L, 1130 Summit St., Findlay, OH 45840. Phone: (419) 422-4224.
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