By CARL GREEN
Collinsville, IL – There was definitely something going at Laura Buick-GMC the day after Thanksgiving, and it wasn’t just a Black Friday sale.
Some 150 union members and supporters were arrayed in front of the giant dealership along Illinois 157 to get the message across that their pensions are worth fighting for – and striking for.
The 52 members of Machinists’ District 9 Lodge 313 are deadlocked in contract negotiations over the company’s demand to replace their pension plan with a 401k investment plan, which isn’t guaranteed and leaves workers to the whims of the stock market and the company.
NO END IN SIGHT
The pension issue is the only sticking point, but nobody’s giving an inch. Two meetings have generated no movement, with the next scheduled for Dec. 5.
“Hopefully we can get some movement from the other side,” Local 313 Business Rep. Roy Collins told the crowd.
“I want to say how happy and how proud I am of everybody who works here and they way they’ve stood together,” he added. “I think they’ve developed a bond, and it’s getting tighter and tighter as we go through this process. They’re a force to be reckoned with, and I’m extremely proud of every one of them.
“No offense to the Letter Carriers, but the fighting Machinists are not afraid of the rain, sleet or the snow either.” He noted how the local’s younger members, while years away from receiving their pensions, still expressed their strong support for the plan. “They do want pensions,” Collins said. “Even though they were not vested in the pension, they want to be.”
In brief remarks, District 9 Directing Business Representative Dave Weaver supported the point. “I’m really proud of the whole group here for standing up and doing the right thing,” he said. “If anybody asks what this is all about, it’s easy – it’s pensions.”
Collins and Weaver thanked the strong support evident from other unions and noted Sheet Metal Workers Local 36, St. Louis; UAW Local 2250, Wentzville; Teamsters Locals 600 in Maryland Heights, 688 in St. Louis and 50 in Swansea for their shows of support.
Madison County officials attending the event, all Democrats, included State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons, Coroner Steve Nonn and East St. Louis Mayor Joe Silkwood (now running for county auditor), plus Steven Kimbrough, Alton Democratic chairman.
But it was the Machinist local members who could best explain why they were on strike, including Scott Boatright, a 30-year member, and David Day, a service writer.
Day said he has made his retirement plans based on receiving the pension he has had in his contract all along. “I’ve got 35 years in, and I don’t want to go back to not having a pension in my plans for retirement,” he said in an interview. “If I make it five or ten more years I’ll be done.”
DOING THE RIGHT THING
Boatright said his longtime goal of retiring early is now in jeopardy. “It was everything I ever worked for,” he said in an interview. “I started here young, trying to do the right thing, getting a union job with a union pension, so I could retire early.
“And now I feel that although I’ve worked extremely hard here, they’re not going to allow it to happen. They’re going to put some money into a 401k, but who’s to say that will continue in our next contract? I don’t want my future to be dictated by them,” he added.
“This was a union shop when I started, with a union pension and union insurance. This is Madison County – it’s a union shop. Now all of a sudden they’ve got three dealerships in Missouri that are non-union, and they want to treat us the same way. We are out here because they forced us out here. We’re all going broke, but we’re doing the right thing.”