Union supporters turn away cars of strikebreakers at Williams Controls

Well before dawn on Jan. 2, supporters of striking United Auto Workers (UAW) at Williams Controls gathered outside the Tigard truck throttle factory. Their mission: a surprise visit to present the company with Portland Jobs With Justice's (JWJ) annual "Grinch Award."

The local workers' rights group presents the annual award (named for the Dr. Seuss character that stole Christmas) to whomever "caused the most harm to working families."

In the case of Williams Controls, the company forced 120 members of UAW 483 out on strike Sept. 9 by presenting unacceptable cuts in wages and every other union benefit.

In Tigard, with 40 people and a handful of cars, JWJ activists ended up shutting down production at the plant for several hours. Accompanied by a group of drummers and a man in a Grinch costume, they tried to enter the factory parking lot just after 4:30 a.m. To stop them, security guards closed the gates. Of course this also prevented the company's strikebreakers from entering.

Guards called the police, but the officers from the Tigard Police Department who arrived said they could not act to remove the activists without a request from company management, which was not due to arrive for another hour-and-a-half.

When managers did arrive, they had difficulty getting in because the action had caused traffic to back up along the driveway to the entrance. Plant manager Tom Dunlap was approached by "the Grinch," who tried unsuccessfully to get him to accept the award. [The following day, picketers reported, Dunlap arrived at 4 a.m., accompanied by Tigard police, but there were no visitors to foil.]

Picketing strikers, who were not part of the JWJ action, watched the scene with amusement. Local 492 maintains a 24-hour picket at the entrance, but rules prevent picketers from blocking cars that are entering or exiting. Instead, a twice daily ritual occurs in which clusters of picketers make several passes in front of strikebreakers' cars while security guards guide the vehicles through.

Dave Himebauch, head of the union's negotiating committee, said only 35 strikebreakers made it through the line that day, half as many as usual.

Meanwhile, union leaders report that negotiations to end the strike have ground nearly to a halt. The two sides had been meeting at the offices of a federal mediator, but the talks were called off by the company for the month of January. Several dates have since been set for February. Portland Jobs With Justice also gave a Grinch Award in the public sector to the Portland Public School Board for its firing of more than 300 custodians.

Nationally, General Electric - the world's largest and most-profitable corporation - won the Grinch Award for reopening its contract with its 14 unions to increase worker costs for health care. GE wants to take even more from the workers next year when the contract expires - all while giving former CEO Jack Welch millions in a "golden parachute" retirement package.

January 17, 2003 issue

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