Lockout of L-1626 members enters second month
Unions reject company’s brutal contract demands
FIFTY BOILERMAKERS, 19 Machinists and an Electrician employed by Clifford-Jacobs Forging near Champaign, Ill., have been walking a picket line since September 29, locked out of their jobs after the unions unanimously rejected the firm’s brutal contract offer and approved a strike vote.
Despite the willingness of the union employees to work without a contract while negotiations continued, the company not only prevented them from returning to their jobs, but it also brought in replacement workers.
Clifford-Jacobs began operations in 1919 and has employed generations of workers from the Champaign area. Today the forge makes parts for aerospace, energy, mining and defense industries. Local 1626 President Steve Harper, 57, said his grandfather and father both worked there. Steve and two of his sons — Stuart, also a Boilermaker, and Dustin, a Machinist — work at the forge, which is now owned by IMT Forge Group of Ottawa, Canada.
The company’s last proposal for a new four-year contract contains major economic disincentives: zero net wage increases over the life of the agreement, a more restrictive overtime policy, a reduction in employer-paid health insurance and the creation of a tiered compensation arrangement that cuts wages and health care benefits by 15 percent for new hires.
In addition, the company seeks to require workers running computer numerical control (CNC) machines, industrial saws and sand blasters to begin operating more than one machine at a time, a situation the union says is a serious safety concern.
“We want to go back to work,” says Steve Harper, “but we want a fair contract. They’re not going to get a contract [with their current unreasonable demands].”
Although company representatives have cited competition and other factors for their regressive contract offer, Harper believes the firm is simply attempting to bolster profits on the backs of its union employees.
“They never said they were losing money,” he said.
The lockout has been rough on Clifford-Jacobs’ union workers, who have lost their healthcare insurance, as well as their wages. Those who can afford temporary COBRA insurance must pay more than $1,200 a month for family coverage. To make matters worse, unemployment benefits were delayed for weeks, and the payments are hardly enough to live on.
International Rep Bill Staggs said he believes the company “is trying to starve these guys out, maybe even break the union.”
A meeting with a federal mediator Nov. 3 failed to resolve the contract issues.
Harper said that the Champaign community and area unions have given their support to the locked-out workers.
“The spirit of our guys is strong,” he added.
But going into the holiday season without a job is especially tough on the workers and their families. The International has established a special fund to provide financial assistance to the locked out members. Checks should be made out to “W. T. Creeden, IST,” with “Take Action” on the memo line at the bottom of the check. Mail checks to International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Attn: IST W. T. Creeden, 753 State Ave., Suite 570, Kansas City, KS 66101.