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Vol. 76/No. 5      February 6, 2012

Wis. strike against Manitowoc
‘absolutely worth it’
Following a two-month strike, members of Local 516 of the Machinists union at the Manitowoc Co. crane manufacturing plant in Manitowoc, Wis., voted Jan. 19 to accept a contract proposal with “open-shop” stipulations and return to work. At the same time, the workers’ union is clearly stronger having fought and reached out for solidarity than it would have been otherwise.

“We weren’t voting on the contract, we were voting to keep our jobs. It is a bitter pill to swallow,” Scott Rosinsky told the Militant. Rosinsky, a member of the Local 516 shop committee, is a material handler who has worked at the plant for 21 years.

The strike began November 14 when 200 workers walked off the job after rejecting a contract 181 to 2 that contained a “freedom of choice” clause in which each worker would decide whether or not to join the union.

The strike received support throughout the community. Some 700 supporters, including steelworkers, laborers, construction workers and others, took part in a Dec. 10 solidarity march and rally in Manitowoc.

On Jan. 13, the workers voted down a second contract proposal 140 to 37, which, according to Scott Parr, assistant director for District 10 of the Machinists, would have allowed workers to “opt out” of the union during a 30-day period once a year.

Six days later they approved a contract 112 to 59, which shortens the annual opt-out period to seven days.

“The day before the final vote on the contract the company leaked to the press that they would permanently replace the workers if they rejected the contract again,” Parr said. “They never told us this at the table.”

“We never told the union that,” Tom Musial, Manitowoc Co. senior vice president of human resources and administration, told the Journal Sentinel. “But as part of any contingency planning, at some point you do get to that.”

The 800 workers at the plant make gigantic crawler cranes used in construction and other industries. They are members of several different unions.

“Manitowoc may think they have won,” Parr said. “But I consider this a victory for 516 because we stepped up to the plate and showed that we’re going to fight. It makes other employers think twice before doing this.”

“We were between a rock and a hard place,” Craig Holschbach, a member of the strike committee who has worked at Manitowoc Co. for seven years, told the Militant. “What hurt us was that the other unions in the plant didn’t give us the support they should. We needed them to honor our picket line. We couldn’t completely stop the work being done in the plant.”

“It was absolutely worth it,” said Holschbach. “I wouldn’t have done anything different. For nine weeks we showed our strength.”
Related articles:
Growing support bolsters ILWU fight against EGT
8 more unionists cleared of frame-up charges
Locked-out sugar workers strengthen picket lines  
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