Stop the Auction!: UE Seeks Solidarity

UPDATE: The auction action has been canceled. Esterline Technologies improved its severance offer--on the condition that UE Local 204 not attempt to stop the auction. The local said that more than $600,000 for 85 members is at stake. More information will be forthcoming.

United Electrical Workers (UE) members in Massachusetts are once again gearing up to stop the company that closed their plant from auctioning off its equipment for scrap. They’re asking New England union members to come to Taunton, south of Boston, January 19 to blockade the Haskon Aerospace factory, a maker of door seals and silicone gaskets for aircraft, and prevent the auction from taking place.

Besides UE members from throughout the Northeast, Jobs with Justice chapters, local unions, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the Jewish Labor Committee, students and professors from Stonehill College, local residents, and the Greater Southeastern Massachusetts Central Labor Council will be there.

The Taunton City Council backs the union’s bid to keep open the 80-year-old plant, which has provided jobs for generations of residents. The council voted unanimously to take Haskon’s equipment by eminent domain, planning to then sell it to a buyer or to the workers themselves. But the council needs permission from the state legislature, which won’t convene till January 21.

Haskon’s parent company, Esterline Technologies, postponed the scheduled auction once in response to union pressure, but has generally been highly uncooperative, on everything from severance pay to health insurance to the fate of the presses. The company has demanded that workers pay more than triple what an appraiser says the presses and equipment are worth.

The UE members were offered solidarity by a Canadian Auto Workers local experienced in fighting a plant auction. President Gerry Farnham’s CAW Local 195 blockaded an auction in November 2009 to keep a Chrysler supplier from selling off equipment while it still owed workers hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance, vacation, and other benefits.

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The company had employed 80 CAW members. “We strategized here in Windsor [Ontario] with all the brother and sister locals around,” Farnham said. “I called a meeting of all the presidents. I told them, ‘I have two facilities I have to block.’

“We had retirees out, we really mobilized our people. They had picket signs with what they were owed—$25,000, $30,000—so the media and people in the community could put a face to a person who’d worked there 25 years and wasn't going to receive a penny.”

Farnham said the Windsor area was lucky because a local union with a problem can call a flying squad to come to its aid. His call resulted in 200 workers and supporters forcing their way through the door of the Radisson Hotel, running up the stairs (the elevators were shut down), and taking over the auction room. The auction was halted.

“Had we not reacted in the manner in which we did,” Farnham said, “there is no doubt in any of our workers’ minds they would not have received one penny.” Earlier, workers had occupied their plant, chaining the doors shut for four days to keep the company from removing equipment. They eventually received $650,000 from Chrysler and from Comerica bank.

See Keep Haskon Jobs in Taunton! for updated information. Call Peter Knowlton, UE regional president, at 774-264-0110 if your union is sending a delegation to the Haskon plant, 336 Weir St. in Taunton. They’re asking for support at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, January 19.

Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer.