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Vol. 76/No. 27      July 23, 2012

Metropolis, Ill., Steelworkers back
Caterpillar, sugar workers
(front page)
On July 2-4, four workers who had been part of a 14-month battle against a lockout by Honeywell at its uranium plant in Metropolis, Ill., drove 1,100 miles to bring solidarity and exchange experiences with sugar workers in Minnesota’s and North Dakota’s Red River Valley who have been locked out by American Crystal Sugar since Aug. 1, 2011, as well as workers on strike for the last two months against Caterpillar in Joliet, Ill.

The four, members of United Steelworkers Local 7-669, included local President Stephen Lech, Rick McConnell, Luckie Atkinson and Christian Mussleman. McConnell is one of six workers fired on frame-up allegations by Honeywell. The union is fighting to get him reinstated.

“We came to bring solidarity and encouragement to our brothers and sisters fighting for a contract at Caterpillar and American Crystal Sugar,” Lech told the Militant.

The Steelworkers picketed and exchanged experiences with members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union battling American Crystal Sugar’s lockout in Moorhead and East Grand Forks, Minn., and Hillsboro, N.D., July 3.

“When we heard you rejected by 63 percent [June 23] the company’s latest union-busting contract proposal we decided we had to come up here to support your fight,” Lech told Becki Jacobson, a leader of the locked-out workers in Moorhead.

“After 14 months we finally ratified a contract and returned to work, but we had to keep on fighting,” he said, describing how Honeywell has tried to violate the contract, including replacing union members with scabs and eliminating paid breaks. One hundred of the Honeywell workers are still laid off after the company walked them out in May on the pretext of investigating the possibility of sabotage of equipment.

Jacobson talked about how much American Crystal Sugar has spent on the lockout and how much of last year’s sugar beet harvest was lost because it could not be processed by the scab workforce. The company has lost $137 million in the last six months alone, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“The beet farmers are also losing money,” Jacobson said. “They will only get $59 per ton of beets this year, well below the $73 for Minn-Dak, another beet farmer cooperative in the Red River Valley.”

Visiting Machinists’ picket line

On their way to the Red River Valley, the Steelworkers visited the picket line outside Caterpillar’s plant in Joliet, where some 30 members of International Association of Machinists Local 851 were on duty July 2.

The Machinists have rejected two company offers. They are fighting for guaranteed wage increases for members hired after 2005, cost-of-living adjustments, a defined pension plan, and against attacks on seniority. During a discussion with the Steelworkers, picket captain Marion Modesitt explained that the Caterpillar bosses want to be able to change anyone’s shift without regard to seniority. She struggled to get and stay on day shift after 38 years.

Maintenance workers hired by Shaw Group are among the many contract employees in the plant, most of whom are non-union, said Modesitt. “The union laborers came out with us. The others are still working in the plant,” she stated.

Shaw Group was Honeywell’s main supplier of scabs during the lockout in Metropolis, noted Lech. “After the lockout, we had to work with them. We got to know them and talked to them about how what they were doing was helping these companies lower wages in a race to the bottom.”

About 40 Machinists have crossed the picket line, according to strikers.

The Caterpillar strikers have set up a food pantry. A number of pickets said the United Auto Workers from Caterpillar’s factory in Pontiac, Ill., recently brought a 17-foot trailer filled with food donations. UAW Local 719 members from Caterpillar’s Electro-Motive Diesel plant in LaGrange, Ill., dropped off a truckload of food in June.

“Guys in the union for 50 years have fought for what we have,” assembler Dave Hurd told the Militant. “I’m standing for my principles.”

“We will be out for as long as it takes,” said recently hired Caterpillar worker Joe Stachon, 25.

Messages of support and contributions for the sugar workers can be sent to BCTGM Local 167G, 100 N 3rd, Suite 50, Grand Forks, ND 58203. Make checks payable to BCTGM 167G with “2011 BCTGM lockout” in memo line.

For the Caterpillar workers, send messages and contributions to IAM 851, 23157 S. Thomas Dillon Dr., Channanon, IL 60410.

Laura Anderson contributed to this article.
Related articles:
Locked-out workers stand up to Con Edison union busting
On the Picket Line
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