From 5 Countries
Union leaders representing Freudenberg workers in five
countries together with UE Local 1107 members outside the Freudenberg-owned
Farnam Sealing plant in Necedah, Wis. Kneeling at left are Ken Zinn of ICEM
and UE District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen; kneeling at right is Dir. of Org. Bob
Trade unionists from five countries representing several
thousand employees of the Freudenberg Group pledged "support and
solidarity to each other" in efforts to organize and improve conditions
throughout the German-based chain.
European workers employed by Freudenberg were shocked and
angry by their employers’ anti-union activity, and the long hours of
American workers, in meeting with unorganized workers in Indiana.
UE Local 1107 represents workers employed by Farnam Sealing
System, a Necedah manufacturer of sealings and gaskets owned by The
Freudenberg Group in partnership with NOK, a Japanese company. Headquartered
in Weinheim, Germany, Freudenberg employs 30,000 workers worldwide in the
sealings, gaskets, nonwovens and household products industries.
Meeting here May 2, representatives of unions from Germany,
the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada and the United States reaffirmed their
"support for the rights of workers everywhere to exercise their
inalienable rights to join trade unions without employer interference."
Over the next two days, the European union members were
shocked and angry to see their employer’s anti-union conduct in the U.S. on
a visit to non-union plants in Shelbyville and Ligonier, Ind.
"They saw very clearly the amount of fear American
workers have when they try to organize a union to better their
conditions," says Ken Zinn, North American representative of the
International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’
Union (ICEM), which organized the meetings. "They were not used to it,
and found it quite shocking."
Zinn says the European workers were also "angry and
surprised to see the number of hours people were being forced to work."
"When we had meetings both in Shelbyville and Ligonier,
there was a dialogue between workers from Europe and the U.S. that had never
happened before," Zinn tells the UE NEWS. Both groups gained some
understanding of life on shop floor here and in Europe. "Obviously there
were differences in those conditions," Zinn reports. The Hoosiers were
"absolutely amazed by amount of vacation time Freudenberg workers get all
over Europe. They nearly fell off their chairs hearing about the one-year
maternity leave in Sweden with 80% of pay."
The Europeans stressed that these were the results of
hard-fought union gains.
"Our main purpose was to cut through the fear, create
some space for workers to build organization and to let them know they have
not just their own co-workers to back each other up, but friends in far away
places who have the ability to get the ear of senior executives of the
company," Zinn says.
Freudenberg-NOK management at the Indiana plans has engaged in
surveillance of workers taking leaflets. In Shelbyville, where there is an
organizing campaign by PACE underway, there have been captive audience
meetings. The European workers were shocked to see an anti-union letter,
clearly designed to intimidate workers organizing, written on company
stationery and signed by plant management.
"There’s a stark contrast between the way the company
behaves towards its employees in Europe and the way it operates in the
U.S.," Zinn says. "We’re trying to eliminate that contradiction,
to make sure that the highest standards prevail in the company."
To that end, he says, "All the European colleagues said
that they were prepared to take the next steps to spread word about what
happens in organizing drives both to their co-workers and to management."
The European unionists spent much of May 2 with Local 1107
members. In the morning they had extensive discussions with Local 1107
officers, exchanging information about wages, working conditions, plant
processes; they had an exchange of questions and answers with the second
shift; joined Local 1107 members for a rally; met with the first shift for an
Freudenberg worker from the Netherlands
Freudenberg worker from Germany
Freudenberg worker from Sweden
Attending the meetings from Europe were Truus Erkens of
FNV Bondgenoten from the Netherlands, Bernhard Feuling and Doris
Meissner of IG Bergbau Chemie Energie from Germany and Karl-Johan
Mortensen, of Industriefacket from Sweden.
Representing UE were Local 1107 Pres. Glenn L. Bush and
Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley.
Other union participants were Dick Blin of the Paper,
Allied Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers’ International Union (PACE),
and Angelo da Costa of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and
Textile Employes (UNITE). Both represented Freudenberg workers in both the
U.S. and Canada.
All of the unions are affiliated to the ICEM, which organized
the May 2 meeting and the tour.
UE News - 05/00