“Union power! Who’s got the power? We got the power! Union power!” These were the chants on the picket line in front of Special Metals in Huntington, West Virginia, Jan. 22. Some 450 members of United Steelworkers Local 40 on strike there got a big boost when a group of railroad workers joined their picket line in a show of support. The rally was organized by the USW local and members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division — International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The workers walked out Oct. 1 when the company proposed a contract that included no pay raises and a substantial hike in health care premiums — “four times what we pay now,” Chad Thompson, president of USW Local 40, told the Militant. That’s “still the main issue to be resolved.”
The union and the company have had several bargaining sessions since with little progress. Thompson told the Huntington Herald-Dispatch that the union negotiating committee rejected the bosses’ latest concession offer after showing it to local members. He told the press Jan. 27 that negotiations might resume Feb. 2.
Special Metals, owned by billionaire Warren Buffet’s massive Berkshire Hathaway worldwide conglomerate, produces nickel alloys used in auto parts, household appliances and industrial equipment.
Matt Weaver, an organizer for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, told the Militant the Jan. 22 rally came about because “some of our guys in Huntington have friends and family on the Special Metals picket lines.” He said they contacted the international union about having a rally to support the strike. Weaver drove down from northern Ohio to join them on the picket line.
The BMWE-IBT represents some 27,000 workers across the country who build and maintain the tracks, bridges and other structures on the railroads. They are currently in negotiations with BNSF Railway, which is also owned by Buffett’s company.
“Rich people like Warren Buffett are playing monopoly with the working class. They are trying to make union members pay way more in health care, have less benefits, lower wages and less job security,” said Weaver. “The working class is looking for fair contracts and labor practices so they can raise their families. These workers are fighting to protect what they have, and we are here to support them. We need to go wherever we’re needed to highlight the struggles of the working class. Solidarity is key.”
Early in January Special Metals bosses sent layoff notices to 75 workers. “This is a terrible blow to these workers and their families,” Thompson said. “We are still hopeful through negotiations this changes and our people do not lose their jobs.”
Although temperatures were frigid on the picket line, USW member Jason Black told the media that having the rail workers’ support had spirits high. “It means everything to have our brothers from the railroad with us rallying,” he said. “Any support we can get, we need it right now.”
Messages of support for the USW strikers can be emailed to Chad Thompson at CSThompson7777@gmail.com. Checks can be made out to USW Local 40, earmarked for the strike fund, and sent to Thompson at 421 Cherry Ridge Road, Thurman, OH 45685.