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Vol. 76/No. 1      January 2, 2012

On the Picket Line

Polar Tank workers in Minnesota
end strike, ratify 5-year contract

OPOLE, Minn.—After 19 days on strike, workers at Polar Tank Trailer ratified a five-year contract Dec. 19. “We forced the company to back down on the outsourcing,” said Robin Yorek, a young worker. The concessions on health in the new contract “are the same” as ones the workers had previously rejected, he added.

The workers, members of International Association of Machinists Lodge 623, went on strike Dec. 1 after Polar Tank Trailer bosses demanded major concessions, including a hike in medical costs and the ability to lay off workers 30 days after outsourcing their work. Seventy-five workers here held a mass picket at Polar Tank Trailer Dec. 15, after voting against a previous revised contract offer a few days earlier. The action was accompanied by a hog roast and picnic.

Earlier this year Polar Corp, which had laid off 500 workers nationwide in 2009, hired 620 people to meet growing demand, in large part due to expanded oil production in Texas and North Dakota.

Some 350 workers at the plant here produce trailer tanks that haul oil, dry bulk goods and other products. Polar Tank is the largest manufacturer of these tanks in the U.S. A company spokesperson told the St. Cloud Times that the strike had affected production levels.

According to Colleen Murphy-Cooney, a business representative for the local, the contract now reads, “The company agrees not to engage in a concerted expansion of subcontracted work for the sole purpose of eliminating members from the bargaining unit.” The changed wording is a win for the union, Murphy-Cooney told the Militant.

The company tried to scare workers saying it was the final offer and “they would permanently replace us if we didn’t vote for it,” said Polar Tank worker Steve Brewer. “They did change the language on the outsourcing.”

—Tom Fiske

Building workers, fighting for
contract, march in NYC

NEW YORK—Thousands of office cleaners and other commercial building workers marched through the streets of midtown Manhattan Dec. 14.

The workers, members of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, are fighting concessions demanded by the Realty Advisory Board. Among its demands, the board wants to establish a two-tier wage and benefit structure for new hires. The contract covering more than 22,000 workers at 1,500 buildings expires Jan. 1.

“New employees should have the same benefits,” Wilda Normil, a 32BJ member who has worked in office buildings for 25 years, told the Militant.

—Deborah Liatos

NY Transit workers rally
against concessions

NEW YORK, Dec. 15—Some 500 members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 and their supporters rallied here today in front of the Metropolitan Transit Authority office against concessions demanded by the MTA.

The TWU contract covers 38,000 bus drivers, train operators, signal maintainers, cleaners, mechanics and other workers. It expires Jan. 15.

“You have to stand up and not back down,” Michael Haye told the Militant. “They want us to accept a wage freeze while the cost of living is going up. They want us to pay more for medical.”

Another TWU Local 100 rally is planned for Jan. 15 outside the Sheraton Hotel where negotiations are taking place.

—Dan Fein

Candy workers in Quebec strike
over wages, seniority rights

GRANBY, Quebec—Facing a threat of lockout, 240 candy workers here went on strike Dec. 5. They work for the Allan Candy Company and are members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 350T.

On the picket line Dec. 11, workers told the Militant they had received a letter from company President Steven Diakowski threatening to lock them out Dec. 14 if they did not accept the bosses’ contract demands. They replied by voting to strike by 100 percent.

Luc Lachapelle, a union shop steward, said the owners want to eliminate seniority considerations for layoffs and job bids. Instead of a wage increase the company is offering a lump sum payment of 2 percent of wages over the four years of the proposed contract. The strike is “about respect for what we have gained over 40 years,” he said.

The company is trying to maintain some production with nonunion employees.

On Dec. 15 workers from Catelli, a pasta factory in Montreal, visited the picket line to show solidarity and serve spaghetti. They are members of the same union.

Messages of support can be sent to union President Sylvain Amiraud at

—Joe Young

Quebec Paperworkers protest
‘lockout in disguise’

QUEBEC CITY, Quebec—On Dec. 9 at least 400 workers—members of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union—protested the closing of White Birch Paper here.

Since the company announced the temporary closing of the plant in mid-November, the union has termed the company’s action a lockout in disguise in order to pressure 600 workers at the plant to accept concessions in ongoing contract negotiations.

The company claims the indeterminate shutdown is because of the newsprint market and production costs. White Birch management did not return a call from the Militant.

“We consider this closure a pressure tactic to make us sign a contract with concessions in wages, vacations and other benefits,” Greg Prevost, a quality tester with 27 years in the plant and a member of CEP Local 137 told the Militant on the picket line Dec. 10.

—Beverly Bernardo

Striking Limestone workers
in Indiana gain support

OOLITIC, Ind., Dec. 17—After a month on the picket line, members of Millworkers Local 8093 on strike at Indiana Limestone here got a boost of solidarity today at a rally in nearby Bedford and a toy drive benefit concert at a pizza restaurant in Bloomington.

“We appreciate all of you coming out to support us,” said striker Ron Watson at the rally of 140. “The union is not just for the union members. It’s for all working people, all across the United States, and around the world.”

Rally participants enjoyed freshly made barbecue sandwiches provided by Rex Smith and Justin Hunter, members of United Steelworkers Local 7-30 who are fighting for their first contract at C&M Conveyor in Mitchell.

“It is an honor to be here.” said Randy Tacket, president of AFSCME Local 3995, which organizes janitors in Bloomington’s public schools.

Wilburn Terrell, president of the Journeyman Stonecutters Association of Indiana, said members of that union who work in the mill and have honored the Millworkers’ picket line are “100 percent” for the strikers. “We’re working together to make it better for everyone,” he said.

—Carl Weinberg

Greece: Solidarity march
backs steelworkers

ASPROPYRGOS, Greece—More than 50 striking steelworkers and supporters, including distillery and airline workers, picketed Dec. 13 at the Elliniki Halivourgia plant here.

“Today, a 24-hour strike by other industrial workers in the area took place,” Nikolaos Harokopos, vice president of the steelworkers union, told the Militant. “The shipyards, the other steel mills shut down and hundreds of workers marched in solidarity with our strike.”

The steelworkers at Elliniki Halivourgia have been on strike since late October against the firing of 50 workers and the bosses’ drive to reduce the workday from eight to five hours, a 40 percent pay cut.

Donations of food and money have been key. Strikers’ spouses have established a Wives Committee to help organize solidarity.

Strikers on the picket line saw an article in the Militant on the fight by locked-out steelworkers at Armstrong World Industries in Marietta, Pa. A group of them drafted a solidarity message and sent it to the Pennsylvania local the same day to “express solidarity and send militant greetings.”

Although the Greek strikers didn’t know it at the time, the Armstrong workers had returned to work four days earlier. “Keep your heads held high,” it said. “You have a right to be proud of everything you are doing. Your colleagues from Aspropyrgos stand with you.”

—Georges Mehrabian
and Natasha Terlexis

Australian port workers fight for
contract as bosses end lockout

SYDNEY, Australia—A four-day lockout of port workers at Bunbury and Fremantle in Western Australia by POAGS ended Dec. 15, after intervention by federal Labor Minister for Workplace Relations William Shorten.

Shorten secured the halting of all union action in a national contract dispute at 28 POAGS wharves. In turn, the bosses ended their lockout in Western Australia. More than 1,600 workers at POAGS noncontainer facilities organized by the Maritime Union of Australia have been in a yearlong campaign for a new contract.

During the “indefinite” lockout, POAGS flew strikebreakers over picket lines in helicopters while ferrying others in by boat.

One of the main issues is safety and work hours. Wharfies (stevedores) can work 12-hour shifts for 10 straight days before receiving a day off.

About half the workers are casual and don’t know if they’re working the next day or what shift. Two fatalities occurred at POAGS ports last year.

—Ron Poulsen

Related articles:
Ohio tire workers rally bolsters lockout struggle
Amid piece rate, injuries, bosses press speedup
‘Sugar bosses underestimate us,’ Midwest unionists say
Longshore fight against union busting intensifies
Alabama action stands up to attack on immigrants, workers
Workers protest ‘silent raid’ firings  
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