They joined the union and won their first contract after the death in 2013 of David Eleidjian, a temporary worker who had only been on the job a week. His clothing caught on a mixing machine and he was crushed. An Iraq war veteran, Eleidjian was the father of a 3-year-old child.
The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Henkel $200,825 for safety violations, and the staffing company $1,500.
“This tragedy was completely preventable,” the director of California’s Department of Industrial Relations said. “The company continued to operate the mixer despite knowing that the partial guard on the mixer exposed workers to dangerous moving parts.”
The company has forced quality control, warehouse workers, temporary agency workers and others to work beside untrained supervisors, operating dangerous equipment.
“Please be careful, without the proper training this work can be very dangerous. In the past few years, there have been numerous accidents and even a fatality. We work with all of you every day and we are concerned for your safety,” a union flyer passed out to workers entering the plant reads.
“This is the same type of bullying tactics, disrespect and complete disregard for workplace safety that pushed us to say enough is enough and go Union! We Are Stronger Together! We can help you!”
“The nonunion workers are scared to death of the machines the company claims they are certified to run,” Steve Older, a union representative, told the Militant. “Our beef is not with them. It’s with the company.”
Two rallies have been held outside the plant, and United Steelworkers members from the POSCO coil mill nearby hosted a barbecue for strikers.
People driving by the picket line have been honking in support. While this correspondent was there, a woman stopped her car and jumped out with bottled water. “I live down the street and want to show my support,” she said as she shook hands with striker Jeremy Albert.
“I was surprised at how unified we are,” Albert, a paste operator, said. “But we have to be. They backed us into a corner.”
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