Porcelen SpecRail strikers hold firm
A giant inflatable pig, representing Porcelen management, looks out over the picket line. | Art Perlo / PW

HAMDEN, Conn.—Negotiations with the company at Porcelen SpecRail were not going well. The company refused to budge on wages, a retirement plan, or health insurance. The 66 painters union (IUPAT) members began wearing buttons to work listing their demands to show their strength.

As the last bargaining session ended and union representatives were on their way to meet with the membership for a strike vote, the company suddenly produced a list of workers who they claimed, without any back up proof, had Social Security numbers or names that did not cross check. Many have worked at the company for as many as 10 to 28 years. The company said these immigrant workers would be fired unless they got their information corrected within one week’s time.

The union members refused to be intimidated by this threat to nearly half the workforce. They voted to strike, and have been on the picket line since March 1.

The union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on the grounds that the threatened workers were not given sufficient and required time to collect their information.

“It took a lot of bravery to stand up,” said IUPAT District 11 business representative Willie Vega Jr.  “The workers felt they were being abused. They are concerned about their families. They want a better life. With the wages here, they have to work two and three jobs in order to pay their bills,” he added.

Hector has worked at Porcelen for seven years, and has been a union steward for two. He has a four-year-old son at home. “The reason I applied to work here was that the wages and insurance were good. We had a $20 co-pay on health insurance.”

Their healthcare deductible is now $3,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a family. The company wants to increase workers’ health care premiums to as much as $600 a month, about a third of wages.

“They have a health plan they cannot afford to use,” said Vega.

The workers produce railings and also coat products for Stanley. They also coat the steel on the coil line which is sent to G&S Metal Products in Cleveland, Ohio, where it is stamped out for baking pans sold at Walmart and Target. G&S is the largest producer of metal bakeware in the United States.

The workers coat as many as 28 coils a day five days a week. That production alone generates high profits for the company.

A giant pig balloon sits in front of the Porcelen building, just next to where the workers picket in the driveway. The pig is labeled “Mark Schwartz,” the owner of G&S.

The workers immediately gained wide support from the Connecticut AFL-CIO and all its affiliate unions, from community groups including the immigrant and workers’ rights group Unidad Latina en Accion, and from elected officials including Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and chair of the Labor Committee of the state legislature, Robyn Porter.

Speaking at a solidarity rally at the picket line early Friday morning, Rep. Porter decried the fact that the company does not pay a living wage. “We are fighting to raise the minimum wage to $15,” she said. “That is still not a living wage but it is a step forward and it will help you,” she told the strikers.

Many workers at Porcelen make $10.40 an hour. The average wage is $14.10 an hour. They are welders, aluminum fabricators, forklift drivers, and hold many other skilled jobs.

State Rep. Robyn Porter declared her strong support for the striking workers. | Art Perlo / PW

The company rejected the workers’ proposal for a 60-cent-a-year raise. The company also refuses to provide a modest 401(k) so the workers can begin making meager contributions to their retirement.

“The people united can never be divided,” chant the workers on the large picket line. “We all went out together, we’re all going back together,” says Vega.

Food, energy assistance, and a strike fund are being organized to enable the workers to withstand the company as long as it takes.

Strike fund contributions can be sent to:

United Labor Agency

56 Town Line Road

Rocky Hill, CT 06067


CONTRIBUTOR

Joelle Fishman
Joelle Fishman

Joelle Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She is a Commissioner on the City of New Haven Peace Commission, serves on the executive board of the Alliance of Retired Americans in Connecticut and is an active member of many economic rights and social justice organizations. As chair of the CPUSA Political Action Commission, she has played an active role in the broad labor and people's alliance and continues to mobilize for health care, worker rights and peace.    

Comments

comments

MOST POPULAR