Navigation Bar

Home -> UE News -> 1999 Archives -> Article

European Workers Back
Local 1107 In Negotiations
With Freudenberg


International Solidarity: Coming together in Brussels

In Brussels, Belgium: Peter Schmidt, European representative of the ICEM, UE Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley, Bernhard Feuling, chairperson of the European Works Council, Karl-Johan Spuur Mortensen, deputy chairperson (interviewed below), and UE Local 1107 Pres. Glenn Bush.
  A global network is our only hope of ever having leverage with a company like Freudenberg


  • Also on this page: in a special UE News interview, the deputy chairperson of the Freudeneberg Co. European Works Council who describes working conditions at his plant  and offers a glimpse of what work is like in another country ...

As UE Local 1107 members at Farnam Sealing negotiate for the first time with the new owners of their plant, a German-Japanese multinational partnership, they take some satisfaction from important new allies — the thousands of European workers employed by the same firm.

The Freudenberg European Works Council declared its support for Local 1107 at a meeting in Brussels Oct. 17-19.

The Freudenberg Group, a huge multinational based in Weinheim, Germany, owns 24 plants in the United States, mostly in partnership with the Japanese company NOK. The Freudenberg-NOK General Partnership is a major player in the auto-parts industry.

UE Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley and Local 1107 Pres. Glenn Bush attended the three-day meeting of the Freudenberg Works Council, exchanging information, garnering support for the Local 1107 negotiations and pledging cooperation.

Established by law, works councils are a form of workplace representation that exists alongside unions in most plants in European countries. Works council members are elected from the factory floor or office to represent their co-workers in grievance meetings and on health and safety and other issues in their workplace. They also meet with other workers and the company on a countrywide basis and on a European basis.

Most works councillors are union members; members of works councils usually play a role in the unions that negotiate union contracts.

Last month’s Freudenberg European Works Council meeting was attended by 25 workers from nine countries. Simultaneously translated into eight other languages, the remarks of UE’s Kingsley and Bush described conditions at the Necedah plant, the location of other Freudenberg plants in the U.S. and the outlook for organizing. Their report provoked a lively question and answer session.

The Works Council unanimously voted to continue to work in solidarity with UE and other U.S. unions.

The council meeting consisted of shop reports and a discussion with the company official responsible for health and safety.

Kingsley and Bush also met Peter Schmidt, European representative of the International Confederation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM), and with Bernhard Feuling, chair of the European Works Council. UE is an affiliate of the ICEM, a worldwide group of unions representing more than 10 million workers. The invitation to UE to attend the Works Council meeting came through the ICEM.

Top of Page

Interview ...

Karl-Johan Spuur Mortenson, the deputy chairperson of the Freudeneberg Co. European Works Council, recently described working conditions at his plant for the UE NEWS. Brother Mortenson works for Freudenberg Household Products; purchased by Freudenberg nine years ago, his plant produces hygenic sponge cloth. It’s located in Norrköping, a traditionally industrial city of 120,000 in southern Sweden.

The plant has a total of 190 employees and three unions. Mortenson belongs to the largest union, Industrifacket (Industrial workers’ union). This is a closed shop; 90 out of the 102 production workers are members of the union. The other 12 are newly hired and still have membership in their former local unions. They will become members the union here within six months.

SIF, the Swedish industrial office workers’ union, represents some 30 employees in administration, laboratory and sales. The national supervisors’ union has two members, one each in the production and packaging departments. Only about 55 employees do not belong to one of the unions.

1. How would you describe workplace conditions? Relations with the employer?

Workplace conditions have always been poor in our plant, by Swedish standards. Much has improved during the 1990s, and we are now in the final process of becoming up-to-date with investments in new machinery and a complete overhaul of the interior of the plant.

Relations to the employer have also been poor, maybe in many ways linked to the conditions in the plant. We have fought a constant battle, as conditions were in some areas comparable with standards of the 1930s in Sweden. This was still so in 1988 when I got my job here. Then, we were 270 employees on the shop floor, so we have lost a large number of jobs since then. This, of course, after fierce negotiations. Since 1995 the situation has been fairly stable and we also have new people in management to negotiate with, so for the time being we have no major arguments or disputes. This, however, can change quickly when the modernization is completed. More automation usually leads to fewer jobs. Discussions have already started on this future threat and hopefully we can solve the situation without having to send anyone out in unemployment.

2. What is the average rate of pay? What are the typical hours of work?

Salaries are normally paid monthly in Sweden. On the shop floor we have an average salary (among our union members) of 16,600 Swedish krona (SEK) a month. (This is approximately US$2,075.) The range is from newly employed, 13,000 SEK (about $1,625) to 18,900 SEK for the most skilled (about $2,263). There is also extra pay for "uncomfortable working time," as it is called in the collective agreement, which for the continuous shift is 3,000 SEK monthly on average (about $375).

Typical working hours are 40 hour week, Monday to Friday 6:45a.m. to 3.30 p.m., with an unpaid lunch break. However, the majority of our members work continuous shift in a system of two days, 12 hours (6 a.m. to 6 p.m. or vice versa), followed by three days off, with five shift teams. This gives an average of 33.6 hours per week.

In the packaging department most members work 40-hour weeks as mentioned, but there is evening work and night work there as well. The evening personnel are 75 percent part-time, and the night is part-time but receives full-time pay. They work Monday to Thursday, which makes 32 hours per week.

3. How much holiday and vacation time do you have?

All our members are entitled to stay at home at holidays, which adds up to 11 days of the year, except the continuous shift workers. These receive extra pay if they have to work holidays. This is regulated in our collective agreement, and I would say it is a common practice nation-wide. In our local agreement we specify certain days before holidays when the workers leave after lunch. These half days add 2 more days annually.

Vacation is 25 working days per year, i.e. 5 weeks. Of these the worker has the right to at least 3 weeks in a row during summer (May to August). The continuous shift workers, again, have different rules.

Law regulates all this.

4. In the event of a plant closing or mass layoff in the United States, the law requires employers only to give employees some warning of the impending tragedy. What is the situation in Sweden?

Here the employers need to give notice well in advance also. Then negotiations must take place in which the union has the right to have a consultant firm go through the financial or other reasons for the closing of the plant. Together with the union, these consultants then have the right to present alternative measures to deal with whatever problem causes the closure. This must all take place before the final decision is made. If the company still wants to close the plant and ignore the suggested alternatives, the union then has a better position in the following social plan negotiations for the members.

It has happened that the company uses the suggestions made by the consultants and some jobs are saved. But it is not possible to stop the closure if the company persists. It is only a matter of how much it will cost them.

My city, Norrköping had this happen recently, when an Ericsson plant closed and the jobs were "outsourced." This effected 1,700 people. Ericsson is a world wide telecommunication company of Swedish origin. The negotiations took eight months. The government also put some pressure on the company to improve the social plan settlements. After all was said and done the number of people to end up unemployed was less than 50. And they had the first choice of jobs available in the area.

This was an example of what can be achieved when media, local politicians and the unions put pressure on a company.

5. As a Freudenberg worker, what value do you see in developing better relations with UE and other unions that represent Freudenberg workers in the U.S.?

It is obvious that the future of efficient union work must be conducted in the same playground as the multinational companies play in. They play, and have played, the global league for a long time, and we are only starting to. They have the network to relocate orders if there is trouble somewhere.

Our international organizations, like ICEM, do great work, but they do not sit opposite to the company in direct negotiations on local issues. If we are going to be able to respond efficiently to the moves of the company, we must build a network that spans the same horizon as theirs.

I think Mr. Kingsley described the problems in the U.S. of having companies relocate to Mexico. And as he described it, your weapon against that was to help the Mexican brothers and sisters to organize. The fight is hard and uphill, and unfortunately chances are that the companies, when Mexico is on your level, will find another "Mexico" somewhere else. That is why we must seek to negotiate on a global level, and have the network built to respond when necessary.

It is our only hope of ever having any kind of leverage against a company such as Freudenberg.

It will take a long time, and it will probably not be completed during our lifetime, if ever, but I feel that we are today taking the first steps on this journey and it is exciting to be a part of it.

Unfortunately, this means that we can only offer very little support to the brothers and sisters negotiating today in Necedah. What we can do is to help out with information and links to other locations in the same branch of Freudenberg, in Europe. The company is known among us to claim "facts" about conditions in other locations that have been shown to be less than correct. This is not much, but it is a start and that is what is important.

I would like to extend the wishes of successful negotiations to the colleagues in Necedah from all of the EWC-delegates and our workforces here in Europe.

I would like to express my deepest respect for those who work and fight for unions all over America, for I have realized they do so not without risk of personal loss. They are in a very similar situation to the union pioneers in Sweden, from the late 19th century up to the 1940s. To all active union people in the United States we send our acknowledgment on hard work well done.

Keep organizing!

Top of Page

UE News - 11/99

Home -> UE News -> Article

Home • About UE • Organize! • Independent Unions • Search • Site Guide • What's New • Contact UE
UE News • Political Action • Info for Workers • Resources • Education • Health & Safety • International • Links

Copyright © 2003 UE. All Rights Reserved