A fast-moving convoy of vans and SUVs nearly run over one picketing union member as it passes a plant gate
By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor
Fifteen days into a strike by 588 machinists and painters, Daimler Trucks North America introduced striker replacements to its Portland truck plant. At about 6:30 a.m. July 15, a fast-moving convoy of vans and SUVs drove through the gate to the main employee entrance, and nearly ran over one picketing union member.
Craig Blair, a 32-year employee at the truck plant, said he was marching back and forth across the entrance with a strike picket sign when company guards opened the gate, and a line of about five white vans, three black suvs and several cars drove up.
“I had to step back or be run over,” Blair said.
Picket captain Riller Clegg witnessed the incident, and says she tried to use her smart phone to film it, but it happened too quickly. Company guards were filming, however.
Another striker called police, and an officer took a statement. No charges were filed.
Machinists District W24 Union Rep Joe Kear said it was unlikely that such a small group of inexperienced workers would be able to produce trucks any time soon, but he said the company’s use of striker replacements sends a pretty clear message to union members. “They’re putting money into counter-strike measures, instead of into an offer.”
No progress in further talks
Daimler met July 10 with representatives of the Machinist and Painters unions, but showed no willingness to improve its final offer — 10 days into a strike at its Swan Island truck plant in Portland. More talks were scheduled for July 17 and 18, after this issue went to press.
No trucks have been produced at the plant since 520 Machinists and 68 painters struck July 1. The Swan Island plant is the only site manufacturing Western Star trucks, which are specialized for use in logging, mining, and other industries.
Members of Machinists Lodge 1005 and Sign Painters and Painter Makers Local 1094 walked out after rejecting a company offer that included raises of $1.30 an hour over three years. They’ve had no raises for four years, during which time productivity increased 25 percent. The company’s proposed raises would have been partially offset by increased health insurance co-pays. The company proposal also would eliminate supplemental health coverage after retirees turn 65.
The strike has also idled 117 members of Teamsters Local 305 and 19 members of Service Employees International Union Local 49 who work at the truck plant. Workers in those units voted to ratify the company’s offer, but are honoring the picket line.
On July 2, the company declared that employer-provided medical benefits were terminated effective July 1 — not just for the strikers but for Local 305 and 49 members as well, who were deemed to be waging a “sympathy strike.” Workers will have 60 days to decide whether to continue health insurance coverage at their own expense. COBRA coverage will cost over $500 a month for single employees, and as much as $1,672 a month for family coverage.
“The company is playing hard ball trying to make sure it’s painful for folks,” Kear said.
Workers received their final checks July 9 for work performed prior to July 1, so there are no immediate hardship cases yet, said Dave Clingen, chair of the strike resource committee. Clingen said his committee’s purpose is to make sure members don’t give in to company demands because of financial hardship. As the strike continues, the committee will be working with Labor’s Community Service Agency to get benefits to strikers who need them. LCSA’s Helping Hands program paid for glaucoma medication for one striker. There are also plans to set up a food bank if the strike drags out.
Striking Machinists got their first union-provided strike benefits July 16. A Lodge 1005 strike fund provides a $120-a-week benefit starting the second week of the strike. In week three, the international union will kick in an additional $150 a week. Members who serve one day a week of picket line duty are eligible for the strike benefits, which will be disbursed every Tuesday at the union hall in Gladstone.
Painters Local 1094, by contrast, doesn’t have a strike fund, but the Oregon AFL-CIO is calling for contributions to help them set one up. Checks can be made out to IUPAT Local 1094 and sent to: 6770 E. Marginal Way South, Building E, Room 303-B, Seattle, WA 98108. Be sure to write ‘Strike Fund’ in the memo line.
Sympathy from North Carolina, and Germany
Thus far, strikers have received statements of support from United Auto Workers, which represents Daimler workers in North and South Carolina, and from the German union IG Metall.
“It is an encouraging sign that our brothers and sisters take control of their destiny, even if it entails conflict,” said Erich Klemm, IG Metall’s representative on Daimler’s supervisory board. “As unionists we know that we have to resort to industrial action from time to time in order to protect the best interests of our members … .”
Daimler is headquartered in Germany, where by law workers have a representative on corporate boards.
On the picket line, frequent police calls
Striking members told the Labor Press July 12 that they are being harassed by security guards, who have called Portland police “four or five times” complaining of pickets blocking gate entrances. One call was for splashing water on a guard (accidentally, from a spilled water bottle, a picketer said). Two police cars sped past a picket line at North Basin Avenue on July 12 as the Labor Press was taking photos.
“They said they were called because we supposedly were blocking the gate,” Machinists at a closed front gate in front of the Western Star plant on Fathom Street told the Labor Press. “The police told us just to keep moving. They didn’t care how slow, just keep moving.”
Through it all, spirits remain high as members rally behind the principle that they deserve to benefit from their company’s rising profitability.