By MARY ANN HOLLEY
It’s hard times for Union brothers and sisters as “right-to-work” looms over Missouri, but the 21 members of the Machinists’ Union Local 41 and 313 who walked the picket line striking at American Pulverizer on Jan. 25 saw a barrage of support that brought a strong message.
“You are not alone,” said International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers President Robert Martinez. “We stand behind you seeking justice, dignity and respect, fighting against a company that has no respect for working people. Every member of the International Association of Machinists across the United States and Canada has your back.”
Reminiscent of a scene from the 1940s, President Martinez, General Vice President of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Midwest Territory Phil Gruber and District 9 Directing Business Representative Mark Conner spoke from a portable podium perched in the bed of a pickup truck.
The familiar blowup rat hovered and the brick and glass block American Pulverizer factory served as a backdrop. Other IAM leadership –General Secretary-Treasurer Dora Cervantes, and Headquarters General Vice President Rickey Wallace – also stood proudly among the ranks.
“They think they can join their ‘right-to-work’ (for-less) buddies and go after us. They think it’s open season,” said Martinez in reference to the Missouri GOP’s proposed “right-to-work” law, which has since been approved. “Well I have a message for American Pulverizer, owners Chris and Paul Griesedieck, and anyone else who wants to attack IAM members or working people – not on my watch! American Pulverizer: Stop surface bargaining. Negotiate a fair contract. We aren’t asking for much. We’re asking for what we’ve earned.”
UNION AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT
As drivers in cars and tractor-trailers passed, they honked and waved. The Humane Society, located next door, lets the strikers use their facilities and to warm up on cold days. The Supporters from other Unions have brought water, firewood, food and financial donations to the weary strikers.
Union members from the Postal Workers to the United Food and Commercial Workers to the Teamsters, Gas Workers, Painters and other unions lined Macklind Avenue holding signs and chanting for fair treatment. Social Service Groups like the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and private citizens joined those who felt it a shame for the company to try to stiff workers that have been loyal to them for all of their working lives.
“My dad, Dennis Johnston, worked here for more than 35 years, and it was a great job that supported our family,” said area resident Susan Benedict. “Now, I support my brother-in-law who walks the picket line.”
Fighting a company that has been signatory to the International Association of Machinists since 1948 is hard to understand, said Conner.
“Our members built this company,” Conner said. “Why does this company have to be so greedy?”
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
“On October 31, American Pulverizer workers said enough is enough,” Conner said. “We’re taking the fight on and are now in our 13th week. I stand in support with you today, and thank union members from throughout the area for coming to stand with us.”
“They’ve been chipping away at benefits over the past three contracts, and it has to stop,” Conner said. “In 2005, they took away healthcare benefits, and in 2011, they took the pension. Now, they want to cut other benefits that the members now enjoy.”
Joe Eccardt, IAM Union Representative for Machinists at American Pulverizer, said despite several attempts to resolve the issues since a strike was called on Oct. 31, the company continues to hold their position on contract changes that would increase members’ cost share on health care insurance, take away premium pay for weekdays, weekends and holiday overtime without guaranteeing holidays off.
The company also wants an addition to the “managements rights clause” which would allow severe rules change that could lead to discharge on a first offense, force the use of vacation time for medical leave, take away union leave that strips the right to union activity.
Gruber said as a former union representative with District 9, he serviced the American Pulverizer plant 25 years ago when union relations were good with the company.
MOVING FORWARD AS EQUAL PARTNERS
“If American Pulverizer wants a fight on their hands… brothers and sisters, I think it’s safe to say they sure got one!” said Gruber. “When you have a company that has been stripping away benefits throughout the last two contracts – and now they’re coming back for more – at some point, brothers and sisters, you have to say enough is enough. IAM members have helped build this company since 1948 – that’s almost 70 years! It’s time they showed us some respect.”
Martinez, said he hoped the American Pulverizer owners were listening.
“We’re going to hold this line and fight the company until the end,” Martinez said. “Our brothers and sisters have worked here making them millions of dollars. Last year the company’s profits were $30 million. Then they go and try to take food off your table.”
Martinez said members, union officials and our Labor community will stand strong, shoulder-to-shoulder until a decent contract is signed.
“We’re not asking for much,” Martinez said. “The family that owns American Pulverizer claims to be strong evangelical Christians, yet they persist in taking money, benefits and healthcare from the children of these workers.”
As of this date, it’s been “take, take, take,” Martinez said. “I’m asking the company owners to look into their hearts.”
Conner also read a statement from Congressman Lacy Clay offering his personal support and communication with the Griesedieck family to sit down and talk with District 9 officials.
“I stand in solidarity with the striking IAM workers at the American Pulverizer Company in their fight to restore dignity and fairness in their workplace. For 12 long weeks these valiant workers have steadfastly resisted the short-sighted and misguided attempts by a profitable company to impose drastic cuts in health care and other vital benefits. When labor and management work together we succeed as a nation. Now is the time for the company to sit down and bargain seriously in good faith with the workers and their union,” Clay stressed.
American Pulverizer has been making quality reduction equipment for use around the world in a variety of reduction applications such as coal, chemicals, ferrous and non-ferrous scrap, hazardous waste, limestone, ore, construction and demolition debris, plastic, tires and wood.
With over 100 years in the design, engineering and manufacturing of specific reduction equipment, American Pulverizer Company sells throughout the world.
“When you look at a company like this that has been consistently successful for more than 100 years, you have to ask who helped them get there?” Conner said. “The company has always held a contract with the Machinists Union, but as the third generation of owners takes control, there is no respect for those who built their business—our IAM members now walking the picket line.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
If you would like to contribute to help the striking workers, make checks payable to Local Lodge 41 strike fund. Mail to Secretary Treasurer LL 41 Steve Branson at Machinists Dist. 9, 12365 St Charles Rock Road, Bridgeton, MO 63044.
No one from American Pulverizer ventured out to talk with the rally group. IAM District 9 has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.