Yesterday, I asked my readers over at Union Review to get me some of the information about the rally in Van Wert for the locked out Steelworkers at Kongsberg Automotive. Michelle obliged, from the Van Wert Independent (6/16/08) :
My apologies to The Independent for clipping the entire article, it just seems that this is so totally ignored, I wanted all the information I could get.
Kongsberg workers who are members of USW Local 1-524 march on Central Avenue this past Saturday following a rally in Fountain Park. Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent
t was a day for union solidarity and community support,
but also one of bitterness and frustration,
as members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1-524 held a rally in Fountain Park Saturday to thank supporters.
Hundreds of people, some of them union officials – including other USW locals and district officials, United Auto Workers officials and even representatives of the Van Wert Federation of Teachers – turned out to provide support, both emotional and financial, for the locked-out workers of Kongsberg Automotive’s Van Wert plant.
Donations from union representatives totaled between $10,000 and $15,000 on Saturday.
Several speakers angrily denounced Kongsberg management officials for what is perceived as a failure to bargain in good faith with local union officials. Kongsberg President Peter Spencer was depicted by a person in a rat’s costume as those at the rally clapped and cheered.
Van Wert Mayor Louis Ehmer, who had taken some heat earlier for not doing enough to support Kongsberg workers during a City Council meeting, spoke at the rally and said the community was behind the workers, while also commending the local union for its demeanor on the picket line.
“You people have demonstrated that you are out there in a dignified way trying to protect and secure your jobs,” the mayor said to applause, adding that he was a bit surprised at union workers’ good behavior since he was originally from Detroit, Mich., where union disputes often turned violent.
Aaron Collins, the 37-year-old president of Local 1-524, bitterly denounced both company officials – most specifically former human resources manager Tom Herman – and government officials who have allowed workers to be exploited by domestic and foreign companies.
Collins talked about how, as a child, he thought it was neat that astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, was from nearby Wapakoneta. “It seemed like, as a child, anything was possible” in America, Collins said, adding, though, that “the American Dream is slipping away from us right now as we speak.”
He angrily criticized both major political parties for their lack of support for U.S. workers, noting: “Both sides are out to get us, both are out for themselves,” and adding that a third party dedicated to middle class Americans may be the answer to make changes at the federal level.
However, he did have praise for U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, who has phoned and written letters to Kongsberg company officials in support of local workers.
John Ryan, Senator Brown’s state director, attended the rally and had words of support for the locked-out workers. Ryan outlined the senator’s actions in support of the local workers, commended non-company employees attending the rally for their support of the locked-out workers and also used the USW’s fighting slogan, “One Day Longer,” in saying the senator would back the workers “one day longer than you need” until Kongsberg returns to the table to bargain in good faith.
USW District 1 Director Dave McCall also spoke during the rally, and later to media representatives, about Local 1-524’s struggle to get back to the bargaining table. McCall said the union was working on a couple of fronts to put pressure on Kongsberg to resume negotiations. Those include a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that accuses Kongsberg of bad faith bargaining, illegal surveillance and failure to provide necessary financial documentation to union negotiators.
McCall said the NLRB had investigators in Van Wert last week to take depositions related to the complaint.
The USW district president also said the USW was working with international unions doing business with Kongsberg to put pressure on the company to resume negotiations from outside the United States. A return to the bargaining table is all union officials want, he said.
“We stand ready and prepared to go back to the table and bargain for a fair and just contract,” McCall added.
He added that the situation in America today, with companies “outsourcing” operations to Mexico, China and other countries, needs to stop.
“Workers have had enough,” McCall said. “Companies cannot continue to exploit workers like this.”
Following the rally, local union members and supporters staged a peaceful march through downtown Van Wert.
These American workers are getting screwed for corporate quarterly profits at any cost.