Cooper Tire workers beat a three-month lockout

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THE United Steelworkers (USW) on Monday said that members of Local 207L have ratified a five-year contract with Cooper Tire and Rubber Company (NYSE:CTB), ending a three-month lockout at the company’s Findlay, Ohio tyre plant.

The new contract was ratified with approximately 66% per cent of the 948 ballots cast.

‘Our brothers and sisters have once again made their voices heard,’ said USW Local 207L President Rodney Nelson. ‘As a committee, we are proud to have remained united and delivered a fair contract, despite Cooper’s best attempts to divide us.’

USW District 1 Director Dave McCall praised the members of Local 207L for their solidarity and determination after being illegally locked out by Cooper on November 28 2011, despite the union’s good faith offer to continue working under the terms of the previous agreement while negotiations toward a new one proceeded.

‘Cooper needs to acknowledge that its loyal, productive and efficient USW workforce is the company’s most valuable asset in Findlay and treat them with the respect and dignity they have earned,’ McCall said. ‘For many years, Cooper was a good example of how workers and management could work together toward common goals and the greater good of the community.’

McCall said that the company’s standing has undeniably changed and that the union’s battle for justice in Findlay has not ended.

‘Breaking federal labour laws, importing a temporary replacement workforce and demanding unfair and unreasonable wage and benefit cuts instead of negotiating in good faith are not the actions of a responsible corporate citizen,’ McCall said.

The USW filed unfair labour practice charges against Cooper with Region 8 of the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) shortly after the lockout began that if upheld may trigger a back pay liability for the time the NLRB determines the lockout illegal.

‘We look forward to an answer from the NLRB on those charges,’ McCall said. ‘Cooper will not escape accountability for its actions.’

Meanwhile, six days ago, members of the United Steelworkers (USW) and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) began ‘From Fargo to Findlay: A Journey for Justice’.

On Monday the Journey concluded with a roundtable discussion at the Ohio AFL-CIO’s Columbus, Ohio headquarters about the most recent wave of greed-motivated corporate attacks on workers and their unions.

Eight locked-out workers travelled over 1,000 miles from the American Crystal Sugar Company (PINK:ASCS) offices near Fargo, North Dakota, to Cooper Tire and Rubber Company’s (NYSE:CTB) headquarters in Findlay, Ohio, and participated in rallies, fundraisers, and direct actions with local union members and allies along the way.

Workers who participated in the Journey shared their perspectives on the six-state tour. The Journey was originally intended to link with a rally in Findlay, but plans changed when the USW announced last week that it reached a tentative agreement with Cooper and had scheduled a ratification vote by the members of Local 207L for Monday.

Participants said that the Journey inspired union solidarity among workers at stops along the route as well as from supporters following the Journey on-line. Supporters followed the Journey via the workers’ weblog, crystalgreed.com/journeyforjustice/, and sent messages of solidarity to the Journey using Facebook and Twitter.

‘We’ve seen the power of solidarity at work in bargaining, during the lockout, and on the road,’ said USW Local 207L Rapid Response Coordinator Robert Greer. ‘We all understand that we are stronger together than we are divided.’

That observation was echoed by the other participants, who understand that the fight for fairness and dignity on the job extends beyond the ACS and Cooper labour disputes.

‘We are sharing our stories about the ways Crystal Sugar’s lockout is affecting us and our families,’ said Lee Schlichtmann, who is currently locked out of ACS’s Hillsboro facility. ‘We’ve learned there are many other companies using the recession as an excuse for taking advantage of their workers too. It’s bullying, and workers shouldn’t have to take it.’

Journey participants reported that sharing their personal stories about being locked out inspires activism in others because workers know that if companies like American Crystal Sugar and Cooper Tire are successful at driving down wages and cutting benefits, their employers may follow suit.

‘The support we’ve received over the last five days has strengthened my resolve to keep up our fight for a fair contract,’ said Becki Jacobson, a 30-year ACS employee from Moorhead, Minn. ‘If Crystal Sugar succeeds in breaking our union with a lockout, other companies will try the same thing with their union workers.’

In recent months, thousands of workers throughout North America have been locked out of their jobs at Caterpillar, Rio Tinto Alcan, HealthBridge and elsewhere as employers try to drive wages and benefits down so that corporate executives can continue to enjoy bonuses and other compensation worth millions of dollars.

‘We set out to spread the message that we must stand together to make a difference, and we sent that message loud and clear,’ said USW Local 207L Women of Steel Coordinator Teresa Brown, a 12-year Cooper employee. ‘Out our fight and the fight for justice for thousands of other workers continues every day.’

l A new report released on Monday, February 27 by Britain’s largest union, Unite, and the North American-based International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), highlights serious flaws in the National Express Group’s human rights policy.

The report, ‘National Express Group’s Diminution of Labour Rights in the US’, starkly concludes that the company’s policy enables it to continue anti-union behaviour rather than appropriately protecting the human rights of its workers.

The report is written by respected academic Professor John Logan, who is the Director of Labour and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University College of Business. It follows the introduction of a purported global ‘Workplace Rights Policy’ by National Express Group at its annual shareholder meeting in May 2011.

The new policy was seemingly prompted by an upsurge in interest among US based workers to join a union and was implemented in a bid to pre-empt criticism of the group’s questionable labour relations record in the US.

Over the course of a decade serious concerns have been raised over the negative human rights and labour relations record of National Express Group’s US private school bus transportation subsidiary, Durham School Services.

The company has been the recipient of many US National Labour Relations Board complaints and charges that raised concerns of unlawful terminations, surveillance, retribution and disparate treatment of its employees who supported unions.

Commenting, Teamster International Vice-President, Rick Middleton, said: ‘This report underlines what we’ve known for years, that National Express Group’s subsidiary takes advantage of weak labour laws in the United States to enable it to be in a position to exploit and silence its US employees.

‘National Express Group’s workplace rights policy is a sham that needs to be corrected immediately. In the majority of union election campaigns there have been clear concerns that the US subsidiary Durham Schools Service, has not fully respected workers’ human rights.’

Unite’s director of executive policy, Steve Turner, said: ‘For many years Unite and the Teamsters have worked together with bus workers throughout the US, Canada and the United Kingdom to drive up standards in multinational bus companies. A key aim has been to protect working families, passengers – particularly children – and communities who rely on critical transportation services.

‘It is not helpful that a British-based company fails to adopt internationally accepted human rights conventions that would appropriately protect workers’ rights and creates stumbling blocks for US employees who want to join or form a union.

‘Instead National Express should follow the example of some of its leading competitors and introduce an effective, robust policy with independent oversight which is transparent and accountable to all the company’s stakeholders.’