After two months on the bitter cold picket lines, members of International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local 516 voted on January 19 to accept Manitowoc Crane’s union-busting contract proposal. It was a defeat for the local and for the union movement as a whole.
The latest vote came after the workers solidly voted down the same language twice before. The difference this time is that workers feared that the company would bring in permanent replacements and fire them all if they didn’t accept.
Money and benefits were never the issue. In fact, earlier proposals contained a modest raise. The problem was that Manitowoc Crane’s owners were insisting on new contract language that would allow employees to “opt out” of union membership — creating what is known as an “open shop.”
The “open shop” is the mechanism that employers have always used to undermine, and ultimately get rid of, their unions. When workers are allowed to get the benefits of the union without becoming a member or paying dues, the organization is weakened to the point where it no longer has leverage at the bargaining table.
From there the company can simply ignore the union or push through a vote to destroy the union altogether.
The IAM members at Manitowoc Crane understood that. So, even though they had been without a paycheck for two months, they voted again to reject the company’s proposal by a 4 to 1 margin on January 14. But the January 19 vote was taken again, this time with a proverbial gun to the workers’ heads and the threat: “Your union or your job.” The vote was 112 to 59, with a majority of the members voting to accept and to fight another day.
While management at Manitowoc Crane says it is not out to get rid of the union, their actions speak louder than their verbal denials.
For example, they have hired the law firm of Buelow, Vetter, Buikema, Olson and Vliet to direct their relations with the union. That firm brags on their website that they specialize in helping companies in “union avoidance strategies,” “assisting with strike planning” and “advising on decertification elections.”
In other words, the union-busting lawyers are writing the company’s game plan.
The company’s CEO Glen Tellock is a supporter of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and sits on the board of the anti-union Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.
Manitowoc Crane doesn’t even pretend that their union-busting contract offer comes out of economic necessity. We know that the company reported $935 million in sales in the most recent quarter.
And, of course, Tellock himself pocketed a total of $4,905,000 in compensation last year.
Delegates at the January 16 meeting of the South Central Federation of Labor “passed the hat” and collected $817 for the striking machinists.
Last month the SCFL collected a pickup truck full of food, personal items and holiday presents for the union’s food pantry and Jim Giedd, Dodge County Chapter representative to the SCFL and retired member of IAM Local 873, drove it up to Manitowoc.
“It was really appreciated,” he reported. In addition to the material support, it is encouraging to know that they’re not alone in this fight. “But now the pantry is down to nothing again.”
In December, the South Central Federation of Labor delegates voted to set up a Manitowoc Crane strike support committee and a similar group has been formed in the Milwaukee area. There is also talk of the state AFL-CIO creating a statewide support committee to help.
“The members of IAM Local 516 at Manitowoc Crane have done us proud, taking a stand against union-busting, anti-worker politics,” according to David Poklinkoski, president of IBEW Local 2304 in Madison and chairperson of the SCFL’s solidarity and strike support committee.
“Unfortunately, the broad infrastructure of solidarity and support that was poised to be launched, statewide and beyond, in support of the workers in Manitowoc will have to be delayed until another struggle comes along.”
“The rank and file members of IAM Local 516 were willing to take a stand an fight the good fight,” he said. “The IAM District leadership should know that they don’t have to fight these fights alone and in the future we will all be better prepared.”