On the Picket Line

UAW members fight for first contract at Chicago-area plant

By Naomi Craine
April 24, 2023

BEDFORD PARK, Ill. — “We’re here to show the company you can’t treat us like this,” William Gehrig told Militant  correspondents visiting the picket line outside the Metal-Matic plant here April 7. Gehrig and some 120 other members of United Auto Workers Local 588 have been on strike at the steel tubing plant here since Feb. 22. They are fighting for their first contract and to stop attacks on pay and health insurance. 

Workers voted to join the UAW in June 2021. A year later, with contract talks stalled, PTC Alliance bought the four Metal-Matic plants in Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio. “It’s disrespectful that the new owners came in and demanded a pay cut,” said Gehrig. “This company thinks so little of the people who put out so much work for them.” 

PTC wants to force workers to cross-train on several additional machines, or else see their pay slashed by $4 per hour. They also want to increase the insurance deductibles that workers have to pay. 

Marco Aguileta, with 26 years in the plant, said workers voted to join the Teamsters once before, but the company dragged out contract talks for three years, and enough workers became discouraged that the union was decertified. He and others are determined not to let that happen this time. 

Aguileta told us the previous owners had imposed a pay cut five years ago, and they’ve had few raises since. “We’re extremely lucky we got the union in before the sale,” he said. “I think we’re going to see even more strikes because the cost of living keeps going up and people revolt against it.” 

The strikers are keeping the picket lines up 24/7. Workers from nearby plants and truckers coming out of the neighboring rail yard bring food, water and wood for burn barrels. 

Striker Brian Sutton said safety is another big issue, describing several serious injuries that occurred in the plant. 

Workers in some departments have been forced to work nearly every Saturday, Sutton’s co-worker, William Dodd, said. “They expect people to come in, as if they don’t have families and kids. One of the managers asked, ‘Why do we have to pay them overtime to come in Saturday?’ It’s the law! They already worked Monday to Friday! We’re not going back in until we get a contract.” 

Show solidarity! Visit the picket line at 7200 S. Narragansett Ave. in Bedford Park. Messages of support can be sent to UAW Local 588, 21540 Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago Heights, IL 60411.