Through the resolution "Stop Plant Closings," the UE Convention demanded that Congress declare "a plant closing and job loss state of emergency," impose strict restrictions on shutdowns and provide workers and communities with alternatives.
The resolution, based on recent UE experiences, had particular impact as rank-and-file leaders of those union struggles addressed the convention.
A little more than a year after Kennametal purchased the 123-year-old Cleveland Twist Drill business, the multinational corporation announced plans to close the plant and eliminate the jobs of the senior, skilled and productive workforce. Konrad Huffnagel, Local 777, described the ongoing effort to fight Kennametal and win a decent severance agreement.
"This is the right thing to do, whether we get a nickel out of this or not," Huffnagel said. Local 777 members intend to make management "think twice" about closing down another plant. "We need to support each other and thats why I stand for this resolution," he declared.
"Corporate America is taking profitable plants and shutting them down to shore up the losers," asserted Gerald LaValley, Local 274, a worker at another Kennametal-owned plant. Cleveland Twist Drill has been a profitable plant; Local 777 members are being victimized even though they attempted correct production problems, he said.
"We cannot allow people to lose jobs so millionaires can become billionaires," LaValley declared.
Already the victim of product-line movement and mass layoffs that have destroyed hundreds of jobs, Local 124 now faces the loss of the loss of electronic-relay production, reported Maken Dodge. When CII purchased the electronic-relay business from Genicom, management promised to keep jobs in Waynesboro, Va. But the company reneged on that promise, deciding to relocate the work.
"We mounted an all-out campaign with rallies, prayer vigils, marches and visits to politicians," Dodge said. Senators John Warner and Charles Robb "could have been invaluable in their assistance, but they sat on their thumbs," he said.
Dodge acknowledged the participation of Local 124 members "theyre all heroes" in the unsuccessful campaign to preserve those jobs and thanked the UE locals across the country for their "unbelievable outpouring of support."
Noting that the resolution calls on UE locals to
"bargain aggressively" for "good benefits in the case of a
plant closing," David Kitchen, Local 506, offered a word of
caution based on General Electric experience. "Those benefits we
negotiate are always the last resort," he said. "The first and
foremost thing is that we have to convince our members that there is
absolutely no benefit negotiated that is worth a job lost forever."
Mary Stewart, Local 618, reported that Local 633 had recently received notice that the Interroyal plant in Warren, Pa. would be closing. She spoke for the entire convention in urging support for the struggle ahead for those workers.
Delegates endorsed the call of Barry Rideout, Local 120, that the unions legislative proposals include a requirement that companies closing plants repay any tax breaks or public financial incentives.
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