EASTLAKE, Ohio - Facing company demands of massive cuts in wages and health care as well as total elimination of their pensions, workers at the highly profitable Conn-Selmer plant here went on strike July 26.
"We're at a standstill," said Bob Madda, chief steward for United Auto Workers Local 2359. "We're picketing 24/7."
The company, a subsidiary of Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc., is the largest U.S. manufacturer of band and orchestral instruments. The plant in Eastlake, 20 miles east of Cleveland, is the main U.S. producer of brass instruments - trumpets, trombones, sousaphones, tubas and French horns. Steinway reported first quarter profits of 11 percent.
"They admit they're making money," Madda, a production worker with 23 years seniority, said. "They said they just want to make more."
The plant's 230 hourly employees worked without a contract starting Feb. 15 and walked out after the company refused to budge from demands slashing wages as much as 65 percent for higher paid workers and nearly doubling health care premiums to $90 a week. Typical production worker wages average $18 an hour, Madda said, with skilled workers making $30.
The union agreed to $1.2 million in wage cuts, but the company insists on $4.5 million.
The strikers got a boost Aug. 2 when members of the American Federation of Musicians Local 4 came from Cleveland as a "Strikeline Band Ensemble" and put on a one-hour concert on the picket line.
"We wanted to bring some good cheer and support them in their struggle to get a reasonable contract," said Local 4 President Leonard DiCosimo.
"The working and economic conditions at Eastlake Conn-Selmer require the same level of commitment from their management that these dedicated workers give to our musicians' instruments. These employees are truly artists and deserve our full support."
The same day the national American Federation of Musicians called a boycott of the company's instruments to support the strike.
"We stand in solidarity with the highly skilled workers at Conn-Selmer, who make some of the finest brass instruments played by the federation's members," said AFM President Ray Hair. "Please support Local 2359's stance against corporate greed by boycotting Conn-Selmer products and instruments."
Madda speculated that the reason for the company's hardline stand may be connected with efforts by several of its top executives to buy the company and spin it off as a separate entity. The Steinway Board of Directors is considering the offer, according to a report in early July in The Elkhart Truth, the local paper in Elkhart, Ind., where Conn-Selmer has a smaller brass instrument plant. The company succeeded in decertifying the union at that plant several years ago.
Leonard DiCosimo contributed to this story. Photo by Leonard DiCosimo.