The workers, members of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE), went on strike February 4 after the company's final contract offer was presented to them. The strike vote was 243-13.
Only two workers have crossed the line to date. Some 20 workers are also on strike at another Webcraft plant in Newark.
The bosses seek to impose "alternate work schedules;" cutbacks in overtime premium pay for Saturday, Sunday, and holidays; and gut seniority rights, explained picket captain Ken Zsorey. "We are already working eight hours a day, seven days a week," he said. The company also wants to subcontract out some jobs, he pointed out. Several strikers say the company needs to hire more workers.
"Any employee with 12 years or less can be forced into the alternate work schedule," said J.R. Friedland, an 18-year veteran at the plant. "For the last three years the company said they're not making any money and that this is necessary for their clients. It's not our fault if they make bad business decisions. There's no limit to what they want and if you don't like it, they say 'hit the door.'"
Webcraft, a direct-mail company with about 2,000 employees worldwide, is a subsidiary of Vertis, a $2-billion conglomerate with 10,000 workers at 141 facilities around the world. Webcraft has annual sales of $475 million.
This strike is the first in the 32-year history of the company, which prints and packs direct mail.
Many of the workers are skilled web press operators and others are packers of the material printed.
James Duffy, an operator with 19 years at the company and a member of the union negotiating committee, described the process that led up to the strike. "In 1992 we gave back 5 percent in the form of four sick days and one paid holiday a year. Now, they want to take away even more. They want us to give back six sick days. They want to make this a nonunion shop. I am proud of my fellow workers. We stuck together and surprised the company."
Friedland said the company imposed a two-tier contract in 1992 after they brought in consultants, fired some management personnel, and threatened to close down a building and lay off 67 workers. "They laid off the workers anyway," he said.
Workers say the company is operating the plant with scabs and supervisors, although only four or five out of 14 presses are working.
Webcraft is seeking an injunction against the strike, claiming that it is "illegal" because the union did not give the company prior notification that they were intending to walk out.
Company spokeswoman Dawn Landers Ey was quoted in the Newark Star-Ledger February 9 as saying, "We are hopeful the illegal work stoppage will end.... Our agreement with the negotiating committee called for modification to payroll and assignments which would allow flexible schedules that could lead to a reduction in the amount of overtime."
Morale among the strikers on the picket line is high. Honking horns in solidarity with the strike resound from the many cars passing by the plant, which is located on busy Route 1. Strikers report that different unions and individuals have stopped by with food and coffee. "We're definitely going to win," said picket captain Ken Zsorey. "They're hurting."
Nancy Rosenstock is a member of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees Local 506 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Maurice Williams contributed to this article.
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