High Plains Showdown
Ends In Union Victory
ELK POINT, S.D.
Load King workers
celebrate their return to work under a new contract on Nov. 9, at the
first Local 1187 membership meeting since the end of the strike.
Over nine long months, temperatures on the prairie picket line
here ranged from deep freeze to broiling hot. Tempers, however, remaining near
boiling, as the company’s illegal, bad-faith bargaining forced workers to
the picket line and so-called "permanent replacement employees" took
Throughout those weeks, the members of UE Local 1187 kept
faith with themselves, the neighbors who expressed good wishes, and the UE
members across the country who helped turned the showdown on the high plains
into a union victory.
On Monday, Nov. 8, Local 1187 members — all of them —
returned to their jobs at the Load King division of CMI under the terms of a
new three-year contract.
Difficult negotiations, particularly over health insurance,
were worse earlier this year when the tractor trailer manufacturer refused to
provide the union necessary information. The company’s unfair labor
practices led to the near-unanimous decision to launch the strike on Feb. 9.
SHOW OF SUPPORT
Within a few short weeks, Local 1187 members began to
experience the assistance from UE and other unions that would keep them in
fighting shape over the long haul. Located between the Missouri and Big Sioux
Rivers, Elk Point is a joint in the far southeastern finger of South Dakota
that sticks into Iowa and Nebraska. Local 1187 members live in all three
states — and the labor movement in "Siouxland" responded early and
often to the call to solidarity.
At a rally on Feb. 20, a caravan of 25 pickup trucks delivered
15,000 pounds of groceries, provided with the assistance of churches and
organized by Jim Marshall, president of the Northwest Iowa Labor
Council. Food from a Sioux City, Iowa food bank would keep coming. The rally
was addressed by area labor leaders, including UE local leaders, and District
11 Pres. Carl Rosen, who took a leading role in organizing strike support.
Local 1187 members, experiencing only the second strike in
their local union’s 12-year history, didn’t realize at first how the weeks
were going to turn into months. At first Pres. Jim Vennard didn’t
think it would be this long, but quickly realized that this was not like the
first strike 11 years ago. "I didn’t expect it to be quite this long,
but I looked for the better and prepared for the worst," comments Robert
CMI officials, continuing their bad-faith bargaining, began
hiring strikebreakers late in the third month of the strike. The
"permanent replacement" employees were induced to cross the picket
line with special bonus rates and more favorable working conditions.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a District 11 delegation
headed by Pres. Rosen pressed Sen. Tim Johnson (D., S.D.) to look into
the National Labor Relations Board’s slow handling of the unfair labor
practice charges filed by Local 1187.
UE launched a cyber-blitz against CMI, encouraging people of
goodwill to send e-mail messages to corporate headquarters protesting the
company’s unionbusting. Local 1187 members and allies began showing up at
trailer dealerships throughout the Plains States and Midwest to tell their
store of corporate greed. The union targeted CMI directors.
On the picket line outside the plant, passers-by stopped to
wish the strikers well. "All kinds of people would stop, sometimes people
on the line didn’t even know," comments Robert Morris, local treasurer.
"We had people in from District 11, driving in from all over the
district, to have rallies with us," Morris points out. Also helping to
sustain the struggle, Load King workers took advantage of a strong market to
find jobs as the strike continued.
Following the UE Convention at the beginning of September,
leafleting expanded to two dealerships in western Pennsylvania and to New
Jersey, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Union members took their campaign to CMI’s
headquarters and main manufacturing plant in Oklahoma City; some workers there
said they wanted to join UE, because it’s a fighting union.
Finally, in October, the National Labor Relations Board ruled
in the union’s favor, affirming that Local 1187 members engaged in an unfair
labor practices strike because of CMI’s failure to bargain in good faith.
"I was praying that would happen," says Local Pres. Vennard. "I
didn’t want to expect (the Labor Board’s decision), but I was hoping for
it. You never know what they’re going to do."
CMI finally agreed to bargain in good faith. A strike
settlement received near-unanimous ratification from Local 1187 members on
‘PRESERVE THE UNION’
Jim Vennard was prepared to keep fighting, he says, "I
didn’t want to see the company break the union," Vennard tells the UE
NEWS. "We’re still the only union shop CMI owns. Absolutely the
most important to all of us was to preserve the union."
For Robert Morris, the hardest part of the nine-month struggle
was finding time to do everything that needed to be done. As local treasurer,
there were checks to write. He traveled extensively to dealerships — as far
away as Texas — and rallies. And his wife was seriously ill and hospitalized
for several weeks during the strike. What kept him going? "I don’t like
to give up!" he says.
"This was a hard-fought struggle — our members chased
this scofflaw company from Wisconsin to Texas to North Carolina to press for a
measure of justice," declared Director of Organization Robert Kingsley.
"This settlement is a victory for our members in Elk Point and for UE
members and allies nationwide who joined in supporting this strike and
bringing pressure to bear on CMI."
The strike settlement guarantees that all strikers will be
reinstated to their former jobs.
The contract contains wage increases of $1.35 over three
years, retroactive to January 1, 1999. The insurance is changed from a 80
percent/20 percent indemnity plan to a 90 percent/10 percent PPO with a $10
co-pay for prescriptions.
Workers retain contract provisions that the company tried to
eliminate, including time and one-half after eight hours of work per day, sick
leave and the second afternoon break.
The company had hired scabs at a higher rate. The contract
rescinds the more favorable wage and working arrangements offered to the
scabs, who will be moved to the second shift.
A longstanding contract provision allows union membership
meetings to take place in the shop cafeteria. On Nov. 9, Load King workers
held their first meeting in the plant since February. At the well-attended
get-together, workers proclaimed they had taken the plant back. And they
adopted a motion that every Tuesday they will wear union T-shirts that
declare, "We are proud to be union!"
‘PROUD TO BE UNION’
Local 1187 leaders interviewed by the UE NEWS say the
ingredients of the workers’ victory was their ability to stick together and
the outstanding support they received from UE as well as labor and community
allies. "We’d like to thank the National Union and all of the brothers
and sisters from around the country for their support. We couldn’t have won
without them," Vennard says.
"It was a hell of a strike, we did a hell of a job!"
declares Joe Kyte, recording secretary. "It was pretty bleak for a
while, but the National stood behind us. We’ve got a proud union. It’s
nice to be a member of UE Local 1187."
"I very proud of our union," enthuses Local Vice
Pres. Scott Nearman. "This is probably one of the tightest
membership you’d ever meet."
The lesson of this struggle, says Local Pres. Vennard,
"is to hang in there, and do it right, keep everyone together and going
in the same direction." Local Vice Pres. Nearman, adds that the lesson is
that "if you stick together, you can beat any damn corporation!"
The UE negotiating committee consisted of President Jim
Vennard, Vice President Scott Nearman, Recording Secretary Joe Kyte,
Financial Secretary Robert Morris and Darrell Dyer, member-at-large.
They were assisted by International Representative Greg Cross and Field
Organizer Rocco DeMaio.
UE News - 11/99