Plymouth foundry workers trying to survive four months of being locked out

(Reposted from Workday Minnesota) DULUTH - When Nick Hill decided to come to Duluth to talk to the Duluth AFL-CIO Central Labor Body about his union being locked out for four months at Progress Casting Group’s foundry in Plymouth, he was amazed at what he found out when he visited Bruce Lotti in USW Local 1028’s office.

“Their scrapbook about their lockout at the foundry here was exactly the same as what we’re going through,” Hill said.

“There’s definitely a game plan that is followed in these attempts at union-busting,” said USW Local 1028 President Lotti.

Hill is like a lot of the members of Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastic and Allied Workers (GMP) Local 63B at Progress Casting. He has worked there for 16 years, but he’s low on the seniority list.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who have worked there for 30 years or more, one’s been there for 47 years,” said Hill, who has been Shop Chairman for 10 years. “45 percent of the workers have 10 or more years.”

Now all 200 of the AFL-CIO-affiliated members are out of work as scab replacement workers do their jobs. It’s been that way since Oct. 27, 2008.

“We all got called by management on Sunday, Oct. 26 and were told we didn’t have jobs anymore,” said Hill. “Their replacement workers were working the Monday we were locked out.”

GMP unionized the aluminum foundry in 1946. There have been ownership changes but current owner Bill Berber has had Progress Casting, one of seven A-Tek companies, since the mid-1980s.

“Berber hires managers to run his company, and we’ve had our disagreements, but never went on strike,” Hill said. “We were told the company lost $10 million in three to four years recently so Tim Metder was brought in from Michigan to manage in 2007 and that’s when things went to hell. The first year we had 70 grievances.”

Nick Hill speaking at Duluth Central Body meeting Nick Hill addressed union members at a meeting of the Duluth Central Body.

Labor World photo In May 2008 in an informal meeting, Berber told workers “our current financial situation is not the union’s fault but we need some flexibility in the union contract.” Then the company proposed taking away seniority, reduced vacation time, forced overtime, forced holiday work, and a two-tier pay scale.

“Any place the contract mentioned that the union and management would work together, they took out,” Hill said. “They said they wanted a safe plant but wouldn’t even work with us and OSHA to try to make it better.”

It does sound a lot like USW Local 1028’s problems at MEI, now ME Electmetal. Foundries are hot, dirty, unsafe, brute force work environments by nature, regardless of what type of castings they produce. Even the aluminum at Progress must be heated to 1,500 degrees to be poured, Hill said.

Progress has a lot of big-time clients, including Harley Davidson, Hobart, GE Medical, Rolls Royce, Polaris, Bombardier, Teledyne, and Lennox transmissions.

“We’ve been writing letters to the customers and unions at their sites to let them know that the shoddy work they’re receiving is not being done by GMP members,” said Hill. “They can track the castings stamped from Oct. 27, 2008, and we’ve heard about quality problems and scrap parts.”

GMP filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board but withdrew them, knowing how they’d be treated by the Bush administration’s NLRB. With the Obama administration in place, the union will refile Feb. 20 and hope to find a more sympathetic NLRB.

“We’re also going to sue them in federal court for $2.1 million for using a lockout to violate the WARN Act,” Hill said.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act has protected workers and communities since 1989 by requiring a notice of a plant closing 60 days in advance if over 100 workers are employed at the site.

In these tough economic times, work is hard to come by for anyone who has lost their job. Being locked out is as bad as it gets.

“Our members that are eligible can get unemployment, but that all will end in April, so we’re hoping for the stimulus package to have extensions,” Hill said. “My family is like most in that we can’t afford COBRA payments to keep medical benefits. We’re finding resources to help like food banks, but we’re all dealing with our bills and trying to heat our homes.”

Duluth Central Body delegates made a nice donation to the GMP workers. If you’d like to contribute, send donations to:

GMP Local 63-B 2520 NE Kennedy St. Minneapolis, MN 55413

Larry Sillanpa edits the Labor World, the official publication of the Duluth Central Body, AFL-CIO. Visit the Labor World website, www.laborworld.org