Winchester workers rally to save jobs

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Despite very low temperatures and snowy sidewalks, union members, workers and politicians gathered in high spirits at the Winchester plant gate March 15 chanting “Save the Jobs!”

Craig Gauthier, chair of the Winchester Citizens Ad Hoc Committee, addressed the rally, saying, “A lot of the time people think that once a company makes a decision we don’t have a fight. We’re saying that we’re drawing a line in the sand right here and we are not going to take it any more.”

When 180 workers were notified in January that final operations at the U.S. Repeating Arms/Winchester factory would end on March 31, the Ad Hoc Committee came together to demand that the jobs stay in New Haven. Grow Jobs Connecticut, a project initiated by the International Association of Machinists, began searching for a new buyer.

Victory Lodge 609 IAM has a strong history of fight-back and action. The plant is located in the heart of the African American Newhallville community.

In 1979, during a long and bitter strike, a group of strikers formed and organized the Citizens Ad Hoc Committee, comprised of unions, community organizations and clergy. The committee gained remarkable political support for the strike.

In the 1990s, when the company sought $20 million in state and city tax abatements to build a new facility, the union and Ad Hoc Committee won groundbreaking language tying the abatement to maintaining jobs. That language requires a six-month notice if machinery is moved for production elsewhere.

Last March the union signed a three-year contract with the company, whose parent is the highly profitable Herstal Group, owned by Belgium. The unionized workforce did their best to keep the operation producing a good quality product. However, the company proceeded with plans to move equipment to South Carolina, Japan and Portugal.

The Citizens Ad Hoc Committee and Community Organized for Responsible Development are committed to keeping the heat on in the fight to have the closing date pushed back until a responsible buyer can be found. Veteran employee David Roy says he is hoping that a new buyer will be found soon.

At the plant gate rally Bob Proto, president of the Greater New Haven Central Labor Council, said, “It’s still a fight we have to show up for everyday to make sure we stop the exodus of good jobs.” Such expressions of support have buoyed the workers.

The New Haven Board of Aldermen is holding a public hearing on the tax abatement issue this week.