Ohio refinery strikers: “We’re fighting for families”

LIMA, Ohio – “We’re fighting for our families,” shouted Steelworkers District One Director Dave McCall, speaking at Saturday’s rally of hundreds of striking Husky Energy refinery workers and supporters here. “The right-wingers like to talk of ‘family values,'” he said. “Well, real family values, the right to be able to spend time with our families, is what this fight is all about, and we are united, strong and we’re going to be here one day longer than this company that wants to take that away from us!”

Two hundred thirty members of USW Local 624 have been on strike since May at the Husky Energy refinery, mainly over “family issues,” including workers’ demands for ending forced overtime, hiring a full workforce, maintaining their right to flexible scheduling practices so that they can spend time with their families, and action on numerous safety problems.

“Nothing is more important to us than our families,” Local 624 President Mike Edelbrock told the spirited crowd at the July 14 Stand Up-Fight Back Solidarity Rally. He became emotional as he spoke of the support their struggle had generated in the Lima community.

“A good friend of ours is a lady that cleans other people’s homes for a living, and she doesn’t make much money,” Edelbrock said. “But she came to us this week and donated $16 to the Solidarity Fund. It was what she could afford and she said that it was for the best of causes, for solidarity!”

“Solidarity Forever,” and other labor songs blasted out from the stage, which was framed by huge banners reading “Our Families Matter” and “Stand Up, Fight Back,” as the overflow crowd poured into local Faurot Park.

The stage and speakers’ platform was decorated with pictures, drawn by children at the union’s picnic, of strikers, pickets and families playing.

The mood was one of joy and celebration, as the workers chanted, “One day longer” and “No justice, no peace.” Signs blossomed from the crowd: “Safe refineries save lives,” “We’re united, We will win” and “Our families are most important!”

Delegations poured in from Toledo, Mansfield, Cleveland, Findley, Bowling Green and Dayton, Ohio, as well as from other union locals and friends from the Lima area, including a group from the United Auto Workers. Many of those delegations were veterans of other tough USW fights, such as the AK Steel workers from Mansfield and the Cooper Tire folks from Findley. The Cleveland delegation also brought a huge load of food and supplies for the strikers.

“It gave me goosebumps watching all those folks coming in to support us,” said Tammy Grigsby, a Local 624 striker. “It was just amazing that people would come all that way to help us when we need it. It’s something I know I’ll never forget. When they need help we’ll remember them, too. It just gave our morale a real boost.”

Boilerhouse worker and striker Paul Moss got tremendous applause as he quoted John F. Kennedy in his speech.

“Those that would cripple collective bargaining do a disservice to our democracy,” quoted Moss. “Unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours and … through collective bargaining … brought justice and democracy to the shop floor.”

Moss, who is also a Baptist minister, went on to compare the local union’s fight to the Biblical story of David and Goliath, pointing out that David overcame great odds to win because he “had right on his side.”

Moss’s speech was appreciated by Larry Wisher, a 28-year worker from the “catcracker” in the refinery.

“People are just tired of being mistreated by these big corporations,” Wisher said. ” They think they can just roll over us. Husky doesn’t want talks, they want to bust our union, but we’re together and won’t let that happen!”

Retired former Local 624 President Clarence Roller pointed out that current President Edelbrock and he are an “exclusive club,” since the local has only had to hit the bricks twice, both times when they’ve been leaders of the local.

“We’re here for our kids, our families and our future,” said striker Chris Brown. “This really touched me, and I know it did others also. I think we’ve made a statement!”

The enthusiastic rally rolled into a big march, led by striker Mike Staller’s truck, which held a big pyramid with signs stating “Solidarity forever,” “Stand up, fight back,” and a large American flag.

USW staff representative Pat Gallagher was optimistic for a positive resolution, pointing out the strength and unity of the strike, as well as the dignity with which the strikers and their supporters have conducted themselves.

Photo: 2012 Unfair Labor Strike  USW Local 624 Facebook page.



Bruce Bostick
Bruce Bostick

Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and leader in Ohio Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.