OPINION: St. Louis Labor Movement solidarity makes our community stronger

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In a show of solidarity, UAW Local 2250 members (from left to right) Darin Gilley, Justin Larson and Ron Lane participated in a sit-in organized by Bricklayers Local 1 at the new Wentzville Texas Roadhouse on Saturday, March 3. The Bricklayers bannered the restaurant last month for using out-of-state, non-union contractors. – Labor Tribune photo

UAW Local 2250, others joined Bricklayers Local 1 for a sit-in at new Texas Roadhouse in Wentzville, and it worked

By DARIN GILLEY
Financial Secretary
UAW Local 2250

About a month ago, UAW Local 2250 President Glenn Kage and I visited the site of the new Texas Roadhouse in Wentzville. The reason for our visit was to show some labor union solidarity with Bricklayers Local 1, which had a banner at the site protesting the use of out-of-state, non-union contractors to build this facility.

We discussed the situation with Bricklayer’s Local 1 President Michael Fox. This discussion focused on a couple of areas: the use of non-union labor while area craftsmen were available and how bringing in out-of-state, non-union workers put downward pressure on the wages of area residents and union members.

In addition, the practice of treating area residents as only consumers is unacceptable. If you want to make a living in this community, act like a member of the community.

On that cold and windy day, we asked Mr. Fox to contact us if we could help him in this fight to hold Texas Roadhouse accountable and become a responsible member of this community.

Mr. Fox took us up on our offer. He reached out and asked President Kage if he could participate in a sit-in at the restaurant during its grand opening on Saturday, March 3. In addition to our local, he contacted 13 other unions and invited members of the Tri-County Labor Club to participate in this action.

A PEACEFUL PROTEST

A sit-in is very similar to one of the best tactics in UAW history – The Great Sit-Down Strike. The Great Sit-Down Strike was the event that led to General Motors recognizing the UAW and led to decades of middle-class creating collective bargaining. The Sit-Down was a non-violent tactic in which workers stopped working and sat down until an agreement was reached. It is a tactic that has been successfully in St. Louis labor and civil rights activism. A sit-in asks diners to occupy a table and refuse to order food although drinks are acceptable. By controlling the restaurant’s income device – the dining table – pressure is generated to encourage the owner/manager to discuss the issues involved.

MANAGEMENT TOOK NOTICE

On Saturday, March 3 at 11a.m., UAW members Justin Larson, Ron Lane and myself, along with a reporter from this newspaper, occupied a table at Texas Roadhouse. After the waiter seated us, we ordered iced teas and water. We were very polite to this young man and eventually tipped him generously.

To be clear, there were only about six tables being occupied as the restaurant was packed with customers. These six tables must have meant a lot because it only took about an hour and 20 minutes for the owner/manager to slide into the seat next to me and ask “OK, what can I do for you?”

I introduced those of us at the table and handed him a letter explaining our position. We then discussed some of these issues. I asked if he would let me introduce him to the Bricklayer president seated nearby and discuss the issues directly with him. The manager agreed, and we all sat down for an open exchange of views. This exchange lasted about 20 minutes.

Management shared that they were not happy with the contractor that built the restaurant as they were over budget and took too long to complete the project, which cost the owner lost business, and suffered from poor quality. In fact, there were so many issues that according to the manager this company had been removed from all future opportunities with Texas Roadhouse.

A PLEDGE TO DO BETTER

Mr. Fox shared his concerns that one of the site construction superintendents had stated that the project would be built all non-union because he thought the location was far enough from St. Louis that it didn’t matter. This was done even after Mr. Fox offered to submit a bid that was better than the one that had been accepted.

The Texas Roadhouse manager shared his regret for that treatment and pledged that on projects in which he had a decision-making role, he would consider options that are sensitive to the surrounding community. The key statement was that when this restaurant expands at this location, which he anticipates in the not too distant future, he will seek bids from both union and non-union contractors.

Mr. Fox thanked the manager for his frankness and willingness to work with him in the future. The past could not be corrected but he would take the manager at his word and look forward to working with Texas Roadhouse on future projects and to them becoming a valued part of the Wentzville community.

SUCCESS THROUGH SOLIDARITY

This sit-in was a success.

The open exchange was successful in increasing understanding of the issues by both parties.

It was successful in increasing the income of the servers as a tip totaling almost $100 more than compensated for any lost dining revenue.

It was successful in making a corporation accountable to the community it serves.

It was successful in helping this local bring a sense of solidarity to the St. Louis Labor Movement. This sense of solidarity will be an asset if our local ever has a fight and needs help from the rest of the Labor movement. We will reap what we sow and sowing support and activism will bring the same to us when we need it.

(Darin Gilley is financial secretary of UAW Local 2250 in Wentzville.)

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