Women of Steel

PORTLAND, OR -- Police arrested a dozen wives, daughters and sisters of locked-out Colorado steelworkers Oct. 5 after the women chained themselves to marble pillars in the lobby of the downtown Portland offices of Oregon Steel Mills Inc.

The women demanded a meeting with company officials on the first anniversary of a lockout-imposed strike of more than 1,000 members of Locals 2102 and 3276 at the company's subsidiary, Rocky Mountain Steel (formerly CF&I) in Pueblo, Colo.

Rocky Mountain brought in strikebreakers when the Steelworkers struck last Oct. 3, refused the union's unconditional offer to return to work Dec. 30, and continues to operate with scabs.

The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Rocky Mountain (CF&I) late in February charging it with more than 100 illegal labor practices. If upheld in court, the finding will entitle the strikers to return to their jobs with full back pay (approximately $40 million) from Dec. 30.

A crowd of more than 100 union members and supporters chanted and displayed signs outside parent company Oregon Steel at 1000 S.W. Broadway. Union officials originally announced a rally a few blocks away at the Wells Fargo Bank Tower, where a dozen arrests were made during a gathering last November protesting the bank's central role in funding Oregon Steel's war on workers.

While Wells Fargo has claimed no involvement in the Pueblo situation, the union points out that it is the lead bank in a consortium of financial institutions that is providing Oregon Steel Mills with a $125 million revolving line of credit. The union also points out that since October, Wells Fargo has extended additional credit to the company and twice extended its credit amendment with Oregon Steel to keep the company from violating its loan covenants.

Two union members carried a large sign that read: "Women of Steel," into Oregon Steel's lobby at 3 p.m., distracting a security guard. Ten other women quietly entered the building in small groups. Two chained their hands together around a pillar (with their hands and arms inside a rectangular metal protective tubing.) The first arrests came 90 minutes later. The women were charged with criminal trespassing and mischief.

"We want less overtime so we can spend quality time with our families," said Ruth Harbaum, a member of Steelworkers Local 2102 in Pueblo. "And we want safer working conditions."

As the women were arrested, tears streamed down Harbaum's face. "These are my friends and they are my heroes. We came here together and we will go home together," she told the Labor Press.

(Editor's Note: Neil Heilpern contributed to this report)


October 16, 1998 issue

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