On the Picket Line

Ironworkers strike Erie Strayer over wages, attendance policy

By Candace Wagner
November 22, 2021

ERIE, Pa. — Forty-two members of Ironworkers Regional Shop Local 851 have been on strike at Erie Strayer here for over a month. After six months of negotiations went nowhere, workers walked off the job Oct. 4, rejecting the company’s offer of 5-cent to 15-cent an hour raises over five years.

“That 5 cents offer is just like getting sand kicked in your face at the beach!” Tom Burdick, with 12 years in the plant, told the Militant on the picket line Nov. 5. It wouldn’t even come close to covering the rising prices today.

The union members are demanding a three-year contract, with raises of 60 cents the first year, retroactive to when the last contract ran out April 1, and 50 cents each of the next two years; a $600 signing bonus; and, for the first time, a dental plan. Tracy Cutright, vice president and business representative for the local, said, “The company came back and said, ‘You’ve never had a dental plan, and you’re never going to get one.’”

The average wage in the plant is $19 an hour, even though the work is highly skilled. Workers make mobile concrete batch production plants used on large construction sites. Workers have no pension, only a 401(k) stock plan.

“I don’t like being on strike,” Burdick said. “The first two weeks were very tough. Then we started receiving strike benefits from the international union, and help came in from other unions and the community. That’s when we realized we could put up a decent fight.”

Among the biggest supporters of the strike is United Electrical Workers Local 506 at the Wabtec locomotive plant in Erie, who were forced out in a bitter battle in 2019. They mobilized for a rally at the Erie Strayer plant gate Oct. 15 and UE members join the picket line regularly. Two Local 506 members came by while we were there.

Teamster drivers have refused to cross the picket line and have supported the strike, Cutright said, as well as teachers, firefighters and others.

Some probationary workers are still on the job, but Joshua Simpson decided to throw his lot in with the strikers. “Even while you’re working, there’s no guarantee to get off probation after 90 days. They use the attendance policy and arbitrary discipline to get rid of workers.”

This attendance policy is another key issue in the strike. Beyond getting disciplinary “points” for every absence, workers are required to call in every day for when they will be out of work, whether they have COVID, are on three-day bereavement, or are in the hospital. Failure to call means an “absence without leave,” and even more points.

The union is planning a rally and march near the plant Nov. 18 to build support for their demands. To follow the strike, visit eriestrayerstrike.com. Join the picketing at 1851 Rudolph Ave.