The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 22      June 9, 2014

(front page)
Steelworkers strike in Illinois:
‘Us today, maybe you tomorrow’
Militant/Laura Anderson
Workers at Sloan Valve near Chicago have organized 24-hour pickets since they began strike May 18 over bosses’ union-busting contract demands. Above, picket line May 24.
FRANKLIN PARK, ILL. — Some 350 members of Steelworkers Local 7999 walked off the job at midnight May 18 at Sloan Valve here, west of Chicago. They had been working without a contract since Sept. 30.

They are fighting for respect and against the company’s anti-union assault, including contract demands that would expand the use of lower paid temporary workers and raise the cost of health care.

Sloan Valve manufactures plumbing fixtures and valves. This veteran workforce on strike has an average of 20 years working for the company.

The 24-hour picket line is spirited, with a food tent and a grill. Strikers take turns chanting while cars drive by. Ernestine Triplett, a machine operator with 10 years at Sloan, told the Militant that this is her first strike. “Us today. Maybe you tomorrow!” she chanted, as she held a “Honk for support” sign. “If you don’t stand up for something you’ll fall for anything,” is one of her favorite sayings. “These kinds of attacks are hitting so many people,” Triplett said.

“Now new hires are temporary for 30 days. After that they may be hired on and brought into the union,” said Loretta Tyler, Steelworkers District 7 staff representative. “The company wants to change this to have new workers as temps for six months. They won’t have to be hired on and could remain working for the temp service in the factory without health insurance.

“The company also wants to raise the cost of health insurance,” she said. “Since August the proposals from the company have not changed.”

Union officials on the picket line said that temporary workers start out at $8.50 an hour, doing the same work as union members who make $17 an hour or more.

Machine operator Domingo Ramirez described the insulting conditions on the job. “There are cameras everywhere, we can’t talk on the line,” Ramirez said. “They asked a lady to open her mouth to see if she was eating during work time — it was a piece of gum.”

If Sloan Valve gets its way, workers said, bosses will replace their “no excuse” attendance program with an even harsher one that allows the company to fire workers after six “occurrences” in a year, instead of the current more flexible point system.

One respected co-worker was fired last year, said mill operator Valerie Green, after getting points for missing work because of two deaths in the family and a fire at his house. Green was recently given points for missing work to take care of a sick grandchild.

“UPS workers, postal workers, IAM representatives and others have dropped off water and joined the picket line in solidarity with the strikers,” said Chris Penge, 38, a tool and die maker and member of the local’s bargaining committee.

Sloan Valve did not respond to requests for comment.

“Staying united is key,” Penge said. The vote was 289 for going on strike, he said, and 7 against.

Penge said that Sloan Valve is going after working union officials. “If you take time off for union business,” he said, “the company wants to take it away from the annual vacation we won in past union contracts, instead of getting union time off.”

“Our members are standing strong, they’re united,” said Jerry Mastny, Local 7999 president, who has worked at the plant for 37 years. “We’ll be out here as long as it takes.”
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