Some 1,050 members of Local 207L are entering their second month 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 with four different tiers of pay.
Anthony Runion, who has worked for five years at the plant, wore chains with a lock around his chest at the rally. “I wore these when I went to vote down the contract. I’m tired of the threats—their put up or shut up,” he said.
Joe Milek came to the rally with his 10-year-old son. He moved to Findlay from Twin Cities, Minn., after the chemical plant he worked in shut down. “I moved because I thought Cooper Tire would be a good job,” he stated. “We’ve been working 12-hour days with no overtime pay.” Milek makes $13 per hour as a scrap trucker.
“New hires would never make it to full pay under the company contract,” said Kenny Sonnenberg, who has worked at Cooper Tire for 19 years. “If you change jobs, you go back to the starting pay rate. That makes it really hard for older workers who need to bid on a less demanding job.”
The union hall across the parking lot from Cooper Tire corporate offices was a beehive of activity leading up to the rally, receiving Christmas donations for kids and ensuring the rotating picket shifts are staffed 24/7. Picket lines surround the plant with fire-barrels and a full stock of firewood that has been donated.
Lori Miller, who has worked at the plant for 19 years, reported that more than $10,000 has been raised for the Christmas fund drive for 381 children of locked-out workers. One man who saw a flier posted in his factory in nearby Fostoria dropped off $40 at the hall during these reporters’ visit. “This and many more acts of kindness to help us out have been humbling,” said Miller the day after the rally.
In explaining what prompted them to vote down the company-proposed contract by a 2-1 margin, many workers gave graphic examples of multiple injuries they have suffered due to the pace of work.
Cooper Tire organizes production for many jobs on a piece rate system. According to a number of workers interviewed by the Militant, a low hourly rate is guaranteed, but much of their income is from piece rate.
The bosses’ proposed wage scale includes increases to the base rates, but no details on what the new piece rates might be or how much faster workers may have to work to approach their previous income, or even just to keep their job. The company contract would establish—as yet also undisclosed—productivity standards that must be maintained to retain a particular job.
‘Breaks down your body’“We work 12-hour shifts with only one half-hour break,” said Gary Camper, a pin barrel tuber operator who has worked at Cooper Tire for 22 years. “We used to have relief, but now you have to beg someone to take your place to go to the bathroom since the line doesn’t stop. This is heavy, constant work. It breaks down your body.”
Camper said his base rate is $6.45 an hour. With incentive and piecework he averages $23.80 per hour. The company’s contract offer would put the base rate at $14 an hour, but provides no details on what the “incentive piece rates” might be.
Linda Jones a tread trucker, who has worked at Cooper Tire for 37 years said, “Since I’ve been at this job I’ve had two hernias, shoulder rotator cuffs operated on, carpal tunnel in both hands and broken toes because of the repetition and pace of the job.”
Since the lockout workers report they have been without pay or medical benefits. So far the state of Ohio has not granted unemployment benefits.
“Six years ago I never would have imagined this could happen,” said Rodney Nelson, president of USW Local 207L. He has worked in the plant for 30 years. “The company came in with their extreme contract and wouldn’t even consider our proposals.”
Cooper Tire management declined to speak with the Militant.
The company has made no moves to alter its concession demands since locking out union members and maintaining some production with replacement workers and supervisory personnel. In spite of the surprise many workers expressed about the company’s actions, they show great determination to put up a fight.
Messages of support and donations can be sent to USW Local 207L, 1130 Summit St., Findlay, OH 45840. Phone: (419) 422-4224.
Betsy Farley contributed to this article.
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