From the picket lines: American Axle and Kongsberg Automotive workers speak out on the internet

With the "Free Trade" threat over their heads and information getting even harder to find, as media outlets continue to narrow their pool of journalistic talent, having those affected by these labor disputes speaking their minds on the internet is one of the only ways to reach into the lives and get an understanding of the human side of these events.

Kongsberg Automotive Of Norway Lock Out of Steelworkers in Van Wert, Ohio

Not much of the goings on at Kongsberg Automotive Of Norway is known, aside from the fact that the company, formerly known as Teleflex was acquired in the first quarter of 2008. After the local USWA Steelworkers rejected a new contract on April 2nd., the company locked them out, then proceeded with temporary worker replacement and threats of moving outside the country, while the community leaders of Van Wert, Ohio have been trying to convince the company to stay put at any costs, oddly enough, the new owner Kongsberg , "has not paid their property tax for the first half of the year, which was due Feb. 13", according to Van Wert County Treasurer Bev Fuerst.

After cross-posting the original Kongsberg story at Union Review on (4/5/08), I got a response from one of the locked out workers, Mr. Tom Potter:
(4/8/08):The Union came to the bargaining table expcecting to bargain in good faith. The Company only wanted to take back. Take back in wages, pension and health insurance. Maybe one or two but all three concessions at one time could not be acceptable. Especially not in light of any facts to back up any claim the Company made in reference to competitives.

This Company bought a plant that was making money the day it became their property. The Company negotiator even clarified that the company was not pleading poor mouth. One of the main issues of contention is that the company wants to implement a two tier wage system that would drop the current worker down to a lower rate of pay simply if a part number would change. This would have the negative effect of a wage reduction ranging from $2.54 up to $7.38 hour. The company is a billion dollar co. every worker at this location has the potential of being placed in this two tier before the new contract would run out, put that with a freeze in the current defined benefit pension, higher insurance premiums and out of pocket, and deductible on the insurance with no raise in wages over the three year agreement - without any real explination - the members did not think so - so the turned the offer down.

This meeting took place in the christain life center church - may "god bless" those for standing up to tough obsticiles
I asked on 4/9, "Thank you Tom for adding that info, I take it you are one of the locked out workers?" and on 4/11 Tom responded:

I am on the front lines of this battle.

I will inform you of what happens when a Foreign National Company, buys a U.S. Company. How that Company comes in and tries to destroy the will of the u.s. workers, to break their Spirit And Determination. How it reeks havoc upon those u.s. workers by the Company Locking Them Out of the plant so they cannot perform their work.

The picket line in Van Wert, Ohio tonight is wet and windy but brave men and women walk those lines. Standing up against all obstacles, having the Courage to know what is right. These workers are members of the community of Van Wert and the surrounding area. They are honest and respectful people. They are U.S. Veterans, leaders in the community, neighbors, friends and patrons, the list could go on forever, they are community.

Kongsberg Automotive Of Norway is intent on breaking the will of these Made In The U.S.A. Workers - Kongsberg Automotive Of Norway will "Preach a Company Code Of Ethics but they do not practice it in The United States.

Before I could respond, Mr. Potter added...
This Company now has stooped as low as contacting former workers of the Company, that the Company claimed to "Terminate For Just Cause," asking them if they would come back to work. What a "Code Of Co. Ethics." Even their own salary group that they just let go are being asked to come back to work.[All have said "No"] All in their attempt to run this plant with temporary workers and put not only themselves in jeopardy but that of the customers and the general public. If certain components for Ford, Chrysler or General Motors are not made to specifications then they are prone to failure and potential recall after the components have been installed on the car makers vehicles.

Kongsberg Automotive Of Norway is wanting to impose upon these U.S. Workers their philosophy on competitiveness in a global economy by bringing them down to Chinas' living standards rather then bringing China's up to the United States. In other words lets pay our U.S. Workers less. I do know that Kongsberg Automotive V.P Of Operations N A Operations Driveline Systems Kevin McMahon was present one day at these negotiations and pretty much was raising the flag of China all across the table.

It's Cold on the picket line today, the wind in much stronger and the temperature is dropping. It will be a cold night.

Tomorrow will be Sunday and the Community will be in prayer, Kongsberg will keep busing in temporary workers and the guards will meet them at the gate. These proud U.S. Workers Of Van Wert will man their post. May all the prayers be heard to bring this Company to their senses, for this senseless act. Amen .

Tom Potter brings the news into our living rooms, from a community that is behind the workers and built around this plant, he lets you view the real story from that front line, where the media doesn't bother, they would rather you didn't care about your fellow American workers.

This is one of the many reasons I have started the series of Free Trade's working victims, highlighting the conditions which American workers must try to compete against in parts of the world where our industrial base is being vacuumed into, the current focus is that these places the common workers cannot even afford to buy food. If the workers in America are going to drop to that level, we are all in trouble and any politician who is voting for more Free Trade agreements is the opponent of the American worker, union or otherwise. Which brings us to the other company that is being threatened by "Free Trade"...

American Axle UAW Workers Strike in Michigan and Buffalo, New York

American Axle, has been demanding overwhelming concessions from their employees, threatening to run itself out of the country if these demands are not met. Around 35,000 GM workers have been put out of work, laid off or have had hours dropped due to this struggle. While the owner and CEO of AAM, Dick Dauch, has finally came back to the bargaining table in the sixth week of the strike, he still has been sticking to his guns, in fact some of the companies points are very factual, the total labor costs of manufacturing auto parts has been declining because of Free Trade, concessions have been given in many other UAW affiliated shops and in a larger scale, the BIG 3 have recently received tremendous concessions, it is a different world, it's the world of "Free Trade" where eventually it would seem if we keep bowing down to the effects of the actions of our Representatives, none of us will be able to afford rice.

Jolyna - A wife of AAM employee, has responded to the original story from 3/2/08, which I turned into a story here at the site, on 3/16, "An open letter to the AAM cofounder and CEO, Dick Dauch", has made another comment, and it sums up what must be going on in the hearts and minds of those striking employees:
(4/11/08) Dick Dauch and the shareholders of American Axle, enough is enough!!!

I am sick and tired of the CRAP that Dick Dauch and American Axle is trying to dish to its employees and their families.
I can’t believe that this man has the nerve to sit there and offer insulting wages with insulting “buy downs” and “buy outs”. He should be ashamed of what he is putting our 3600+ families through. Let’s not forget the other hundreds of thousands families that are being affected by this strike too. Not only in our country; but world wide.

He seems to think that his “buy downs” and “buy outs” will be “cushy and comfy” for his employees. These figures must be enough to replace the 14 years my husband has in at your company, the fact that we have to completely start over somewhere else – without the same pay – and allow our families to keep our houses. In my opinion, this man will never offer enough for the damage that has already been done and the wrath we are about to endure.

He smugly accepts a huge salary and bonuses while he threatens to close our plants because we aren’t making a profit large enough. However, he fails to announce to the world that these 5 plants fund the off shore plants and the off shore plants rake in the profits. How do you expect my husband and his co-workers to produce enough to finance all of these operations? Meanwhile, he is taking machines out of my husband’s plant and sending them to non-union plants. It’s a disgrace! AMERICAN Axle …yeah, real American.

I resent the fact that he is turning our lives upside down. I resent the fact we have to start over. I resent the fact we may have to TRY and sell our home and my kids may have to leave their school and the friends they know. Above all, I resent the fact that this is all because of 1 company’s greed!

I hope the whole Dauch family and members of the board can sleep well at night with their million dollar salaries; knowing their jobs and salaries are safe. While we are worrying and wondering how we are going to repair this financial and emotional mess that he has thrown us into. We can only hope that he acquires a conscience before it’s not too late!
Thank you, Tom and Jolyna,

I continue to hope for the best and will continue to help spread the message of your families struggle, in solidarity,
Joe

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