Rally buoys United Auto Workers' strikers at Williams Controls

For striking workers at Williams Controls, a Jan. 15 rally in front of the downtown Portland federal building was a chance to move their strike from the Tigard picketline to a more public location.

Williams, which earlier refused to meet with the United Auto Workers (UAW) bargaining team in January, relented and scheduled mediation sessions at the offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The rally coincided with the first such session.

"The government ain't gonna help us," striker Randy Cullinan told supporters at the rally. "The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) hasn't done anything. And they got a Tigard Police Department cop sitting across the street every day, wasting my taxpayer money watching us."

Cullinan has been at Williams 26 years. Under the company offer workers rejected, the $20 an hour he earned as a lead lathe operator would have been cut $3.50 an hour - at a time when the company is making a healthy profit. Williams is the only U.S. manufacturer of electronic throttles for trucks.

"These corporate bigwigs make millions," Cullinan said. "They don't care about their employees." No strikers have crossed the picketline, but every day Cullinan watches about 50 strikebreakers cross the line.

And he's paying a price. He said the $200 a week in union strike benefits only slows the fall. When he was unable to make mortgage payments, the bank sent a foreclosure notice. Now, to save his house, he's drawing down his 401(k) account.

Strikers aren't eligible for unemployment benefits, Cullinan pointed out, and it's difficult for them to find other work - not just because of the tough economy. Most jobs out there pay less than the Williams workers were making, so potential employers won't hire them, believing they'll go back to Williams when the labor dispute ends.

The mid-day rally, organized by Portland Jobs With Justice, drew as many as 80 supporters. In attendance was a 30-foot tall "corporate rat," owned by Laborers Local 296. The rat has become a regular at area union rallies and pickets, symbolizing predatory corporations like Williams. The UAW says Williams provoked the unfair labor practice strike, now in its sixth month, by demanding sizable pay cuts from workers the day before their contract expired.

At the rally's conclusion, supporters marched to a nearby Wells Fargo Bank and called on the bank to withdraw as a lender to Williams.

The union is asking supporters to contact company owners and managers: Tom Dunlap, Trent Smith, Gary Hafner, Kirk Ferguson, and Scott Schwartz.

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