UAW Workers Hold the Line at Williams Control- Fighting 50% Wage Cuts

Not one Williams Control worker has crossed the picket line since members of UAW Local 492 in Tigard, Oregon, began striking last September, protesting a proposed contract that one worker described as “a slavery agreement.”

Aside from an average wage cut of close to 50% and drastic cuts to health care, management’s contract contained mandatory overtime and “continuation of shift” provisions that would have put workers at the mercy of management.

BROAD SUPPORT

The 120 striking workers have received an outpouring of support from Portland-area labor and community organizations. On January 2, Jobs with Justice activists, who have organized a number of rallies at the plant, attempted to present their “Grinch” award (given annually to folks who “cause the most harm to working families”) to the Williams plant manager. Activists in cars and on foot, including a large drum corps, accompanied the Grinch, causing a huge traffic jam.

Scabs had a hard time getting to work on that 4:30 am shift, and only 50% reported the next day. Laurie King, a Portland JwJ organizer present at the January 2 event, described scabs who “drove up to the plant, saw the picketers and all the traffic caused by the demonstration, and just turned around.”

More recently, labor supporters of Local 492 rallied in front of the Federal Building during negotiations and then marched over to Wells Fargo Bank, which is the chief lender to Williams Controls. JwJ activists led marchers inside the bank, filling the lobby and creating a scene both within the bank and on the street. As King said, ‘We want to show Wells Fargo that they need to stop supporting a corporation that does not act responsibly.”

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JwJ has also picketed and leafleted at temp agencies who provide scabs to the Williams facility, forcing at least one agency to pull Williams Control from its list of customers.

“Many local unions in Portland have supported our picket and food bank,” says Dave Himebauch, the local’s chief negotiator. The Portland Laborers Local 483 and the Machinists Local 1005, who work at Freightliner, a chief customer of Williams Controls, helped raise money for the strikers. Local fire fighters joined workers on the picket line a number of times, bringing coffee and donuts.

DISRUPTING PRODUCTION

All of this has had a serious impact upon Williams’ production. According to Himebauch, the Portland plant has halted work on its pneumatic products (nearly 20% of its output) altogether, while all other production has been slowed significantly.

Williams Controls produces 80% of the world’s throttle assemblies for diesel trucks and busses. Since the UAW members went on strike, the company has been running on scab labor, producing parts that are potentially unsafe.

Himebauch believes that “the management team has no interest in settling with us whatsoever...they haven’t budged one inch.” Consequently, the workers are bringing formal charges against management, alleging that, from the get-go, they have not been bargaining in good faith.

Eighty-five percent of the company’s profits are generated at the Portland facility, where more than half of the workers have been for more than 20 years. “It’s an old time company,” says Himebach. “For lots of [the workers], this is the only place they’ve been.” Despite their long histories with the company, the striking workers are in no mood to compromise. “The prominent mood,” according to Himebauch, “is that employees will never go back to work without a good contract.”