Sunday, July 29, 2012

Building Solidarity with workers on strike at GR Gravel

Originally posted on GRIID

One thing we were all reminded of with the onset of the Occupy Movement was the glaring disparity between the rich and the rest of us.

This writer was reminded of that disparity yesterday, while attending Day 10 of a strike being held by the workers at Grand Rapids Gravel.

Members of the Teamsters Local 406 are on strike because the company owner was demanding a $6.00 an hour pay cut from his workforce. In talking to a 17-year employee and Teamster member, we discovered that the last time the workers received a raise was in 2000, and the raise was just 50 cents. This means that it has been 12 years since the workers have received any kind of raise and yet they are being asked to take a $6.00 an hour pay cut.

The strike rally was being held yesterday across the street from a golf course, one that the owner of Grand Rapids Gravel Andy Dykema owns. The plush golf course is not all that he owns in addition to the gravel company. According to Teamster member Bill Steckling, Dykema also owns this large condo project near the golf course.

To illustrate the absurd level of wealth that Dykema possesses, another member of the Teamsters told a story while those on strike gathered to share information. The Teamster members said that one day Dykema was out near his property and he and one of his constituents were looking around. Dykema then says to the man, “that sure is a nice piece of property. We should own it.” The constituent responded by saying, “You already own it.”

When Dykema demanded that the workers take a $6.00 an hour pay cut, the union met and they did agree to take a $3.26 per hour pay cut, but the boss responded that it was $6.00 and nothing less. Disgusted with the owner’s unwillingness to compromise, the workers called for a strike.

Bill Steckling then told us that the company hired a strike breaking lawyer, who has brought in Pinkerton Guards to protect the company’s property and is working with what they believe is an Illinois firm that is hiring scab workers from out of state to replace the workers on strike. No one at this point has been able to identify the Illinois firm nor where the workers are coming from.

About 80 people made up of striking workers, family members and people from the community, came out yesterday to show solidarity for the workers on strike. The group was picketing across the street from the Dykema-owned golf course with signs, banners and a Teamster semi-trailer.

After hours of picketing, the group then gathered to hear a few speakers discuss the campaign. One Teamster member said that there was already support from other unions, like the UAW, SEIU, the local labor council and the IWW. After the speakers, everyone was invited to share some food that had been prepared, which allowed people more time to talk informally and build solidarity.

IWW members Deirdre Cunningham said of the strike, “It was important for me to come out today and stand with the striking workers in strength & solidarity. It takes a lot of courage to sign up for such uncertainty as a strike, and people need to see the support of friends, the network of shared resources available to them, to continue to stand strong for what we know is right.”

Cole Dorsey, also a member of the IWW and a labor organizer added, “The Grand Rapids IWW has a good relationship with the Teamsters local 406. Regardless of this we would have joined them in solidarity because we feel workers in struggle anywhere is an issue for workers everywhere. We joined them on the picket line today and will continue to do so until they win. One of our mottos is “the longer the picket line the shorter the strike.”

The Teamsters welcome any kind of support that people can offer, particularly the kind of solidarity by showing up and standing with them in their strike against greed. Go to this link to find the various locations where the workers are on strike and have a presence.

We also spoke with Teamster organizer Craig Salzwedel yesterday on camera. Here is the brief interview we did with Craig where he talks about the strike and the issues the union has with the company.

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