Two major unions, the Steelworkers and the Bakery Workers, announced today a joint project, a 1,000-mile Journey for Justice.
Locked out workers from American Crystal Sugar Company and Cooper Tire and Rubber Company will embark on a historic road trip from Fargo, N.D., to Findlay, Ohio, in order to shine a spotlight on employer lockouts of workers The lockouts, they say, represent one of the worst of the recent waves of corporate attacks on workers and their unions.
Members of the United Steelworkers and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union announced the project, "From Fargo to Findlay: A Journey for Justice," explaining that workers will travel over 1,000 miles through six states in six days, hooking up with local unions and allies along the way at rallies, fundraisers, and local actions.
The Journey for Justice will begin Feb. 22 with a rally in Fargo, and make stops in Minnesota. Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana before concluding on Feb. 27 in Findlay.
Findlay is the place where Cooper Tire locked out more than 1,000 workers at its tire plant last Nov. 28, just day after Thanksgiving.
More than six months ago, American Crystal Sugar locked out its entire union workforce of 1,300 sugar beet workers from seven facilities in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa, despite making record profits over the last three years.
"It's really terrible and we have to do something dramatic to call attention to what has become a common form of warfare against workers," said Amy Maciola, the AFL-CIO's coordinator of the Fargo-to-Findlay Journey. "In just the last few months thousands of workers in North America have been locked out of their jobs at Caterpillar, Rio Tinto Alcan and HealthBridge and elsewhere.
The reason the companies are locking workers out "is because by doing so they, at the least, drive down benefits and wages and, at best, from their point of view, they kill unions altogether," Maciola said. "It's the same reason they push so-called right to work laws. It's all done while the top executives of the companies enjoy record bonuses and record high compensation amounting to millions of dollars."
When American Crystal Sugar locked out its workers it had already groomed the replacement workers it had waiting in the wings. Workers told the People's World that management was taking steps to find the replacements long before the union contract expired.
The Journey for Justice follows months of local, state and federal lawmakers, religious leaders and the workers themselves calling on the company's president, David Berg, to end the lockout and return to the bargaining table.
Berg admitted at a November meeting with shareholders that the company had planned the lockout all along: "I and others - many, many many others - mapped this out a long time ago," he said. "It will be costly. We're investing a lot of your money so you'll be more profitable in the future. "At the same meeting he referred to the union contract as a cancerous tumor that had to be removed.
The numbers of locked out workers across the continent are staggering. In addition to those locked out at American Crystal there are 1,050 at Cooper Tire in Ohio, 750 at Rio Tinto Alcan in Quebec and 800 at Health/Bridge Care One in Connecticut.
"For evidence of a war on workers, look no further than the rise of the lockout," noted Laura Clawson at the Daily Kos recently.
Photo: Union workers locked out at the American Crystal Sugar plant march in Moorhead, Minn. Dave Kolpack/AP