MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. — Over 400 members of United Steelworkers Local 200 here have struck major aluminum beverage can recycle company Constellium since Dec. 15. Workers on the picket line said the company wants to gut seniority, giving bosses complete control over who works when and where.
They said they’re determined to defend their union. “I’m the third generation in my family to work here. I come from a strong union family. If I crossed the line my daddy would kick my butt and my granddaddy would come back to haunt me,” Kevin Clement said with a chuckle.
Workers said the strike isn’t about wages. The company is offering a 15% increase over five years — larger than in past contracts. “They think they can buy what they want on our seniority and working conditions by offering more money,” said Kenney Greenhill. Union members voted down the company’s concession contract three times before striking.
Paris-based Constellium bought the plant from Wise Alloys and Reynolds Aluminum in 2015. Bosses say they can process 20 billion used cans a year and the aluminum can sheet they make out of them is in heavy demand.
“This company claims to be ‘pro-family,’” Greenhill said. “We get seven holidays every year. You know where I was on those holidays? Working in there!” The company would rather lay out holiday pay than shut down for a day, he said.
“Without our seniority we don’t have a union,” said Greenhill. The company’s demands include moving workers from eight-hour to 12-hour shifts. Several workers said bosses want to be able to have workers start on one machine and in the middle of the shift send them to another area.
“It’s the way they treat us,” added Willie Coffey. “They have got people in there telling us what to do who have never done the work.” Several workers said the company has been using overtime to produce a surplus in preparation for the strike.
Bosses have been chipping away at the union over years, the workers said. Much of the maintenance is now done by contractors. Some contractors have honored the pickets; others have crossed.
The bosses’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic is also an issue among workers. Nearly 250 people in the plant have been infected with the virus. Bosses ran the plant at 50% capacity claiming they were trying to lessen the spread of the infections. But then “they had us working overtime to make up the difference,” Clement explained.
The strike is getting support from other workers in this town of 14,000. Many honked as they drove by.
“The media has really been attacking us, saying we make too much and telling us go back to work,” said Greenhill. In contrast, workers say their picket line is kept stocked with snacks, coffee, sodas, wood for the burn barrels and other supplies from strike supporters.
“We’ve had people from the post office and UPS come by,” said Greenhill. “The train crews that pick up shipments refused to cross the picket,” added Coffey.
The union has also received support from the Metalworkers’ Federation of France. In a Dec. 22 letter to the USW members the French unionists said, “You can count on the full support of the FTM-CGT and the CGT Constellium in your struggle.”
The union has begun to hold rallies outside the plant every Monday at 6 a.m. “We hold them just across the street from the main office so they can see us. Everyone is welcome to join,” said Clement.
Donations and messages of support can be sent to the union at: United Steelworkers Local 200, 2601 Avalon Ave., Muscle Shoals, AL 35661.
Lisa Potash in Atlanta contributed to this article.