FARGO, N.D. - Locked out workers from Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. in Findlay, Ohio arrived Feb. 21 here for the start of an historic 1,000-mile Journey for Justice that will wind its way across six states, ending up back in their home town.
The Cooper Tire workers, members of United Steelworkers Local 207L, have been locked out since Nov. 28 in what they say is part of a new wave of corporate attacks on workers and their unions.
They hooked up yesterday with four locked out workers from Fargo-based American Crystal Sugar Co., all members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union, on a six-day, six state journey to raise awareness about the new wave of corporate lockouts and the fighting spirit of locked out workers across North America.
An hour after the locked out workers gathered in the Labor Temple here, several of them called the PW to talk about their "journey."
"I'm here to stand in solidarity with my locked out brothers and sisters from American Crystal," declared locked out Cooper Tire worker John Greer. "We're sharing our stories, building solidarity and letting people know what is really going on in this country."
Greer, 55, with a wife and a 35 year-old-son, worked as an electrician at Cooper Tire for 22 years before he was locked out. Greer, along with Dave Burns, Theresa Brown and Linda Jones - the rest of the "Findlay, Four" - hit the ground running yesterday.
Almost immediately after touching down at Fargo's airport, they joined locked out sugar workers on the picket line outside Crystal Sugar's facility in nearby Moorhead, Minnesota where, with boos and jeers, they greeted replacement workers during a shift change.
The same union-busting firm, Strom Engineering, is providing replacement workers for both Crystal Sugar and Cooper Tire during their lockouts. Linda Jones, a tread trucker at Cooper Tire, said, "It's been hard watching poorly trained replacements trying to do work I've taken pride in for 36 years. It's heartbreaking to see how a company can treat their loyal employees so badly."
The union offered to work at Cooper under the old contract while negotiations continued for a new one but the company refused, locking everyone out.
Greer, who is the "rapid response political coordinator" for the union local at Findlay pointed out that it was hard to understand why the union offer was turned down and the company is now spending millions of dollars to keep workers out of their jobs.
"The only explanation." he said, "is that they are out to kill the union altogether. It's part of a coordinated anti-union effort nationwide. They used to force people out on strike, now they just lock them out," he said. Greer noted that for quite a while people in Findlay thought the workers were actually out on strike and that "we had to tell them, no, this is a lockout. When they learned that workers who wanted to work were being locked out they really came out to support us," he said.
This is not Greer's first trip across long distances to rally in the cause of his co-workers. Last month he travelled to Krucevec, Serbia, where Cooper Tire recently took over a production plant. Greer and other members of the Steelworkers union met with workers in the Serbian plant who, they said, offered their support during the lockout in America. "We learned what solidarity is all about," Greer said. "With the globalization of these companies, the only way we're going to maintain working conditions is if our unions go global too. This solidarity is what this Journey for Justice is all about."
Becki Jacobson, 48, a divorced mother of grown children, started working for American Crystal Sugar Co. 30 years ago, when she was just 18. "Loyalty didn't matter," she said "I was locked out like all the rest."
She described the sick feeling that came over workers in the last weeks before the lockout as they watched who would become their replacements enter some sections of the plant. "We knew they were our replacements but when we asked the bosses about it they denied it," she said. "One boss said, 'oh no, they're not your replacements, we're going to give you a big raise."
Jacobson added: "It's been tough but thank God in Minnesota we have unemployment benefits." Workers locked out at American Crustal in North Dakota are not eligible to collect jobless benefits.
Labor and community allies all over the Midwest have been running a major food bank operation to help locked out workers.
There will be a "rally for dignity and justice' in Moorehead today, after which the locked out workers will deliver to Crystal Sugar thousands of signatures demanding they be brought back to work. After North Dakota and Minnesota, the Journey for Justice will wind its way through Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana before getting back to Ohio.
Photo: Locket out workers are fighting back. Here, Becki Jacobson, a 30 year veteran at American Crystal Sugar, tells postal workers about her struggle. Becki Johnson // CC 2.0