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Laid-off workers defy company to join picket line<
Maytag strikers dig in

By Nicole Colson | July 2, 2004 | Page 11

NEWTON, Iowa--More than 1,500 Maytag strikers continue to hold the line since a strike began here June 10. The contract affects members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 997--1,525 striking workers, 700 laid-off workers, 1,400 retirees and 350 surviving retiree spouses.

The company is pressing for a number of givebacks, most notably, increases in health care costs that would raise out-of-pocket expenses to $4,000 per year not including co-payments. Management is also trying to repackage wage increases by paying all raises in lump sums rather than adding it into base pay, which would lower future increases in wages and benefits.

Maytag has also attempted to pit union members against each other, recalling more than 400 of 700 previously laid off workers to work on June 23. A letter from the company informed the laid-off workers that if they did not report for work, they would be considered on strike.

But on June 23, the more than 400 recalled workers reported for work at 6 a.m.--and then unanimously decided to walk back out to the cheers of the other strikers. By 12:30 p.m., according to the union, the employee parking lot was empty again.

"It was an underhanded attempt by the corporation to pit union member against union member, and it failed," Ted Johnson, vice president of Local 997, said in a statement. "It takes a lot of courage and dignity to do what's right for everyone and not just look out for yourself. They should be commended for it."

"The support was overwhelming," said Lisa Annee. "I couldn't have walked back in there if I didn't know I had all that support. It just about brought tears to my eyes, it was awesome." 

This act of solidarity comes at a high price. Many of the laid-off workers will now lose their unemployment benefits--although they will now be able to receive strike benefits. Still, according to the union, they see the impact of the issues on the bargaining table, not only for the strikers, but also for future employees and retirees as well. As Socialist Worker went to press, the union and Maytag had agreed to continue negotiations.

The company has already decimated other operations, most notably its plant in Galesburg, Ill. Ten years ago, Galesburg welcomed Maytag into town with $10 million in incentives. Now, the plant is closing.

The area's largest employer, Maytag employed nearly 1,600 workers when the company announced plans to close its Galesburg refrigerator facilities in October 2002--in order to move production to Reynosa, Mexico, where workers will earn about $2 an hour. As many as 2,000 non-Maytag jobs are expected to evaporate when Maytag closes up shop.

We can't let that happen in Newton. Newton workers need solidarity--so that we can send a message that we won't stand by as Corporate America destroys our jobs.

For more information about the strike, go to www.uaw997.org.

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