BY GALE SHANGOLD
LOS ANGELES - All 32 workers at Industrial Wire Products here are standing up to the company in a strike that began December 8. The strikers are members of United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 1422.
The company's so-called final offer includes a miserly five- cent wage increase for each year of the contract, eliminating one week of vacation for workers with 15 years or more seniority, 12-hour mandatory shifts at regular pay, and all grievances to be submitted in English, although 90 percent of the workers in the plant speak Spanish.
A majority of the workers are immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala with an average of 15 years in the plant. The average pay is $9.30 an hour despite the fact that it is a relatively high-seniority workforce and the industry average is close to $13.00 an hour.
Workers on the picket line frequently raised the questions of dignity and respect as a major factor in the strike.
"They expect one man to run two or three machines," said Jesús Cornejo. "They want us to work 12 hours a day with no overtime pay. One day I took my father home from the plant when he had heart problems and I was suspended. They treat us like slaves."
"I've worked at a lot of places but I've never seen anything like this before," said Raúl Calderón. They have no respect for the workers here. They give you 20 [disciplinary] points if you don't call in [to be excused from work] one hour before the shift starts."
Enio Hernández, a worker with 18 years' service in the plant, said, "The main issue in the strike is not money. The main issue in my mind is that the company now refuses to process grievances in Spanish. Only English is allowed. On top of that they won't allow the shop stewards to file grievances -they have to be done by the individual workers themselves."
This is "a fight to unify the workers in the three plants owned by the same company," said Alejandro Molina Lara, the chief shop steward. "Two of the plants are organized by the UE and one by the Steelworkers and our contracts aren't the same. But the other two plants, in Pomona and Rancho Cucamonga, which are not on strike, are organizing solidarity." The company has shifted production to the other two plants but the only furnace continues to operate in the struck plant.
Currently about a half-dozen workers from a temporary agency and management personnel are attempting to keep one machine running. The picket lines have been strong, with most of the strikers showing up daily for duty. Daily informational meetings take place at the picket line.
The unionists point out that it took a strike as well as a U.S. Supreme Court decision to get the union recognized 15 years ago. Today they are fighting to keep their union intact.
Gale Shangold is a member of UNITE Local 482. Mark
Friedman, Samuel Farley, and Craig Honts also contributed to
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