Sugar workers kick off
6-state ‘Journey for Justice’
BY FRANK FORRESTAL
EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn.—Workers locked out by American Crystal Sugar in the Upper Midwest are gearing up for a large “Rally for Dignity and Justice” on Feb. 22 in Moorhead, Minn. The event will kick off a solidarity caravan—“From Fargo to Findlay: A Journey for Justice”—that will unite their fight with that of workers locked out for nearly three months by Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. in Findlay, Ohio.
The rally will take place at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel at noon, and then proceed to American Crystal’s corporate headquarters in the city where the union will hand over tens of thousands of petitions gathered across the country demanding the company end the lockout.
Some 1,300 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union have been locked out since Aug. 1 after refusing American Crystal’s concession contract demands aimed at weakening the union.
Locked-out workers from the Cooper Tire plant in Findlay, members of United Steelworkers Local 207L, will take part in the sugar workers’ Feb. 22 rally.
“The rally will kick off a 1,000 mile journey for justice,” said Gayln Olson, president of BCTGM Local 372G in Hillsboro, N.D. The caravan will begin in Fargo, N.D., Feb. 22, the same day as the sugar workers’ rally in Moorhead. Locked-out sugar and tire workers will make stops along the way to speak at rallies and raise funds as they travel through North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana before concluding in Findlay Feb. 27 with a rally outside the Cooper Tire factory.
An AFL-CIO blog announcing the Journey for Justice caravan explains: “For workers making the Journey, the message is simple: They want to keep their union, and they want to go back to work.”
American Crystal bosses have thus far stubbornly refused to back off from their union-busting demands. During the most recent negotiation session Jan. 30, the union offered concessions on health insurance and the use of outside contract workers. The company responded by saying the union’s proposals didn’t go far enough. “The Union’s proposals represent a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the obvious—times have changed dramatically over the past fifty years and our contract needs to address those changes,” said a Jan. 30 company statement.
American Crystal bosses planned well ahead for their lockout, lining up hundreds of scabs from Strong Engineering to maintain production. Since November the company has been on a campaign to hire replacement workers from the local area.
“We see very few local scabs at the Drayton plant,” Paul Woinarowicz, a locked-out worker with more than 30 years at American Crystal told the Militant in early February. According to Scott Ripplinger, a locked-out worker and co-chair of the union’s Solidarity Committee, “the number of locally recruited scabs is around 20” at the East Grand Forks factory. Ross Perrin, chief union steward at the Moorhead plant, said, “The company has hired around 35 locals.”
“Our February food drive is picking up steam,” said sugar worker Ken Lamberson, while picketing near the south gate at the East Grand Forks plant. “We’ve gotten a couple of food drop-offs organized by Ralph Honda of the Letter Carriers union, who have helped us from the beginning.”
“As well, we will be getting more than 500 pounds of beef from an anonymous donor—that’s a lot of hamburger,” Lamberson said.
“The union sent letters to farmers in the sugar beet districts asking for help in our food drive,” said Ripplinger at the East Grand Forks picket line.
Over the past month, sugar workers have stepped up picketing. Each week they have put out a call for locked-out workers and their supporters to picket one factory during shift change. These “scab change” rallies, as the workers call them, have helped keep union morale strong.
Send messages of solidarity and contributions to BCTGM Local 167G, 100 N 3rd St. Suite 50, Grand Forks, ND 58203.
battle with Cooper Tire
BY LAURA ANDERSON
FINDLAY, Ohio—Locked-out Steelworkers from Cooper Tire here are organizing to link up with workers locked out by American Crystal Sugar Co. in the Upper Midwest for a “Journey for Justice” caravan traveling from North Dakota to Ohio.
The caravan will end at a “Hands Around the Plant” rally outside the Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. factory here Feb. 27. Supporters of the Steelworkers’ fight are encouraged to join in.
Some 1,050 members of United Steelworkers Local 207L were locked out Nov. 28 after rejecting Cooper Tire’s contract demands to cut wages, speed up work, and establish lower pay and benefits for new hires.
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.
“In recent months, thousands of workers throughout North America have been locked out of their jobs,” pointed out a Feb. 15 USW press release on the caravan. In addition to Cooper Tire and American Crystal, the union statement took note of lockouts by bosses at “Caterpillar, Rio Tinto Alcan, HealthBridge and elsewhere as employers try to drive wages and benefits down.”
Plenty of fliers were available for the Journey for Justice at the local’s successful food drive Sat., Feb. 11, held at the union hall in Findlay.
“I have never done anything like this, but we need to fight for our rights, we need to have a life that supports our families,” Dave Burns, one of the four locked-out Steelworkers going on the journey, told the Militant, as he helped out at the drive. North Dakota is in a worse position not getting unemployment benefits.”
Workers locked out by American Crystal in North Dakota have been denied jobless compensation by the state government.
The Steelworkers continue to gain support from across the country. More than 40,000 pounds of food was delivered Feb. 11 during a drive organized by Women of Steel District 1. Members of USW locals throughout Ohio brought food and money donations.
The union hall was bustling with a human chain bringing in boxes of canned food, fresh fruit, frozen meat, bags of potatoes and more. As large bags of apples were being loaded onto tables a worker helping out said, “These guys don’t know who they are messing with.”
Teresa Brown, a member of Women of Steel District 1 and a locked-out worker, told everyone to take a break to hear an announcement from two USW Local 169 workers who were locked out at AK Steel in 1999-2003.
“Within eight hours $2,270 was raised by passing the hat in our plant of 280 people,” said Brian Speelman, president of Local 169. This was on top of the $500 the union voted to contribute.
“As hard as the [AK Steel] lockout was,” Speelman later said, “it was the most inspiring time in my life. Cooper Tire workers helped us along with many others.”
Messages of support and donations can be sent to USW Local 207L, 1130 Summit St., Findlay, OH 45840. Phone: (419) 422-4224.