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Archive for Friday, October 6, 2006

Topeka workers walk off job

October 6, 2006

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— Like many co-workers on the picket line, Steve Huston wasn't happy Thursday about going on strike at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. plant, but he felt there was no other option.

"Nobody is glad to be on strike, but we're trying to hold on to what we have and they are trying to take more benefits and wages from us," said Huston, of Topeka, who has worked at the plant for 36 years. "We're trying to keep benefits for the retirees, too."

Huston was among 1,300 to 1,400 members of United Steelworkers Local 307 striking, joining workers at 15 other Goodyear plants in nine other states and Canada after talks broke down between the world's third-largest tire maker and the union, which represents some 15,000 workers at all the plants.

About 20 workers formed a single-file picket line outside the plant, many holding signs declaring they were on strike for "unfair labor practices." A trucker drove to the plant entrance, saw the picketers, turned around and left as several strikers cheered.

Workers said they will maintain the picket line around the clock outside the Topeka plant, which makes tires - some as big as 12 feet tall - for commercial vehicles such as dump trucks and tractor-trailers and for Humvee military vehicles.

The company contends the offer rejected by the union protects jobs and secures pensions while mirroring agreements other companies have.

But Huston said workers are concerned about proposals that would have them paying more for health insurance, losing a cost-of-living adjustment and accepting a pay plan that could result in some workers earning less.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. employees leave the plant in Topeka. About 15,000 Goodyear employees nationwide went on strike Thursday after rejecting the company's latest contract proposal, negotiations for which had been conducted since the last contract expired July 22.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. employees leave the plant in Topeka. About 15,000 Goodyear employees nationwide went on strike Thursday after rejecting the company's latest contract proposal, negotiations for which had been conducted since the last contract expired July 22.

"When you reduce our hourly wage, it hits us pretty hard," he said. "We just want to hang on to what we have and survive."

The strike was no surprise for the workers, many sporting blue T-shirts with a slogan on the back: "Unity today. Protection for retirees. Security for the future."

The old contract expired July 22 and both sides agreed to an indefinite day-to-day extension. On Monday, the union served notice it would terminate the contract at midday Thursday if no agreement was reached. As the noon hour approached, union stewards in the various departments told workers to pack up their tools and clock out.

Bob Dolezilek, who has been at the plant 39 years, said he shut down his tire-making machine and left.

Dolezilek, of Holton, said he has some savings stashed away and his wife works. But like other strikers, he will pinch pennies and look for part-time work. Still, he has no regrets with walking out.

"This time, they asked for the moon," he said.

The question is how long the strike will last. In 1976, workers walked out for four months, and the most recent strike in 1997 lasted two weeks.

Dave Gutierrez, of Topeka, has been at the plant for five years. He said it could be a long strike "if Goodyear keeps going the way they are."

"I've got some put aside but I may look for part-time work to tide me over, maybe I'll go back to construction," he said.

Lloyd Brown, of Topeka, a six-year veteran at the plant, said he's striking for more than any personal gain - it's because of other workers who went on strike in the past.

"They sacrificed in past strikes to get us what we've got. I'm an old-fashioned guy. If somebody does you a favor, you do them a favor," he said.

Comments

Oddball 8 years, 2 months ago

Hang tough guys. You've got my full support. The unions of this country have done great things for the American worker. Even those not in a union have benefited thru the years by a nearby union presence. Do away with the union positions in a company, and the wages and benefits of the non-union positions will suffer. The unions aren't perfect, they all have their flaws, but they are infinitely better than relying on the generosity of employers to share the profits with those who made the profits possible. The unions have been instrumental in improving workplace safety. Who wants to go back to the days of no health benefits, no vacation time for a normal family life, working from dawn to dusk for minimal pay, and getting paid according to who's *** you kiss. So if you weren't one of the 'good ol' boys' in charge, you got paid a pittance just like the majority of the other workers. True, this didn't happen in every workplace, but these conditions were the rules, rather than the exceptions. I owe everything I've ever had to the representation of a union. I'm a reasonably intelligent, hard working employee that's fiercely loyal to my union and the company I work for. My employers treat me well, based on my work effort, skills and knowledge-due to the union presence at my back. So hang tough, union brothers. Stand up for what you believe in. I salute you!

haspas 8 years, 2 months ago

AND, Oddball, they've really done wonders for all employees of GM, Ford and Chrysler haven't they?

The ignorant greed of unions coupled with the ignorant greed of management destroyed an industry that was the bulwark of the middle class.

Paying full salaries to workers laid off by automation; full health care benefits until death, etc. etc. did the trick.

Goodyear's Topeka plant is World War II vintage. Down the road when we read this business has been sent overseas, we'll all just be totally mystified, won't we?

Has common sense left us?

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